Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

IN SPAIN.

IRVING's residence in Spain, which was prolonged till September, 1829, was the most fruitful period in his life, and of considerable consequence to literature. It is not easy to overestimate the debt of Americans to the man who first opened to them the fascinating domain of early Spanish history and romance. We can conceive of it by reflecting upon the blank that would exist without “The Alhambra,” “The Conquest of Granada,” “The Legends of the Conquest of Spain,” and I may add the popular loss if we had not “The Lives of Columbus and his Companions.” Irving had the creative touch, or at least the magic of the pen, to give a definite, universal, and romantic interest to whatever he described. We cannot deny him that. A few lines about the inn of the Red Horse at Stratford-on-Avon created a new object of pilgrimage right in

[ocr errors]

the presence of the house and tomb of the
poet. And how much of the romantic in-
terest of all the English-reading world in
the Alhambra is due to him; the name in-
variably recalls his own, and every visitor
there is conscious of his presence. He has
again and again been criticised almost out of
court, and written down to the rank of the
mere idle humorist; but as often as I take
up “The Conquest of Granada” or “The
Alhambra " I am aware of something that
has eluded the critical analysis, and I con-
clude that if one cannot write for the few
it may be worth while to write for the
many.
It was Irving's intention, when he went
to Madrid, merely to make a translation of
some historical documents which were then
appearing, edited by M. Navarrete, from
the papers of Bishop Las Casas and the
journals of Columbus, entitled “The Voy-
ages of Columbus.” But when he found
that this publication, although it contained
many documents, hitherto unknown, that
threw much light on the discovery of the
New World, was rather a rich mass of ma-
terials for a history than a history itself,

[graphic]
[graphic]

and that he had access in Madrid libraries to great collections of Spanish colonial history, he changed his plan, and determined to write a Life of Columbus. His studies for this led him deep into the old chronicles and legends of Spain, and out of these, with his own travel and observation, came those books of mingled fables, sentiment, fact, and humor which are after all the most enduring fruits of his residence in Spain. Notwithstanding his absorption in literary pursuits, Irving was not denied the charm of domestic society, which was all his life his chief delight. The house he most frequented in Madrid was that of Mr. D'Oubril, the Russian Minister. In his charming household were Madame D'Oubril and her niece, Mademoiselle Antoinette Bollviller, and Prince Dolgorouki, a young attaché of the legation. His letters to Prince Dolgorouki and to Mademoiselle Antoinette give a most lively and entertaining picture of his residence and travels in Spain. In one of them to the prince, who was temporarily absent from the city, we have glimpses of the happy hours, the happiest of all hours, passed in this refined family

circle. Here is one that exhibits the still fresh romance in the heart of forty-four years : —

“Last evening, at your house, we had one of the most lovely tableaux I ever beheld. It was the conception of Murillo, represented by Madame A Mademoiselle Antoinette arranged the tableau with her usual good taste, and the effect was enchanting. It was more like a vision of something spiritual and celestial than a representation of anything merely mortal; or rather it was woman as in my romantic days I have been apt to imagine her, approaching to the angelic nature. I have frequently admired Madame A as a mere beautiful woman, when I have seen her dressed up in the fantastic attire of the mode; but here I beheld her elevated into a representative of the divine purity and grace, exceeding even the beau idéal of the painter, for she even surpassed in beauty the picture of Murillo. I felt as if I could have knelt down and worshiped her. Heavens ! what power women would have over us, if they knew how to sustain the attractions which nature has bestowed upon them, and which we are so ready to assist by our imaginations ! For my part, I am superstitious in my admiration of them, and like to walk in a perpetual delusion, decking them out

as divinities. I thank no one to undeceive me, and to prove that they are mere mortals.”

And he continues in another strain: —

“How full of interest everything is connected with the old times in Spain ' I am more and more delighted with the old literature of the country, its chronicles, plays, and romances. It has the wild vigor and luxuriance of the forests of my native country, which, however savage and entangled, are more captivating to my imagination than the finest parks and cultivated woodlands.

“As I live in the neighborhood of the library of the Jesuits’ College of St. Isidoro, I pass most of my mornings there. You cannot think what a delight I feel in passing through its galleries, filled with old parchment-bound books. It is a perfect wilderness of curiosity to me. What a deep-felt, quiet luxury there is in delving into the rich ore of these old, neglected volumes How these hours of uninterrupted intellectual enjoyment, so tranquil and independent, repay one for the ennui and disappointment too often experienced in the intercourse of society How they serve to bring back the feelings into a harmonious tone, after being jarred and put out of tune by the collisions with the world !”

With the romantic period of Spanish his

« AnteriorContinuar »