« ForrigeFortsett »
The Romance of History. Spain. By Don T. De Trueba. 3 vols. London. 1830.
WE must confess that the contents of these volumes were
singularly new to us. Educated in the old manner, and whipped, from our earliest days, into an acquaintance with the languages, mythologies, and histories of the ancient nations, we have been obliged to remain in utter ignorance in respect to most other departments of literature. The library, to which we had access in our boyhood, was well stored with grammars, dictionaries, translations, and all the works most necessary to illustrate a collection of Greek and Roman authors. To these books we necessarily confined our studies; and became comparatively familiar with the great men of antiquity, before we had been taught anything of the events and characters which have honored our native land. As to other countries,France, Spain, and Germany, we knew them merely as territories put down on the maps.
It is natural, under such circumstances, that we should begin to weary of
Of what is ordinary.”
We have grown heartily tired of Alexander and Cæsar. It is at least three years since we wrote our last sonnet on Cleo
patra, or figured in the newspapers with amatory stanzas to Lalage and Galatea. We have ceased to illustrate the persecution of virtue by reference to the treatment of Aristides; or to call the patron of literature a second Mæcenas. We seldom style the moon Diana, even in our verses; have dispensed with the society of Cupid; and never think of asking inspiration from Apollo or the Muses.
In the traditions of Spain we found all the attractions of novelty. We were ignorant of the many gorgeous and gloomy passages in her annals; the struggles which have taken place on her borders; the peculiarities and rapid changes of the nations by whom she has been in turn occupied; and all the tales of crime and heroism which have been woven into the tissue of her story.
The work of Don Trueba is a collection of tales, founded upon facts admitted as authentic by Spanish historians. The series commences at the date of the expulsion of the Goths, and closes with the death of Charles II, in 1700. The author concludes at this period, rather from the necessity of bringing his work to a conclusion, than from having exhausted his subject. He says, that there is no want of splendid materials. Indeed, Spain was, during the war of independence, the theatre of one of the most glorious contests that can adorn the pages of the historian. The striking events, the deeds of heroism, the romantic adventure, to which that memorable period gave birth, afforded a wide field for illustration."
The poetry embodied in these tales is uniformly from the ballads of Mr. Lockhart. A higher compliment could not be paid to these productions, than their selection by a native Spaniard, to illustrate sketches of his national history. There are few works that have been published by living writers, which display more poetical vigor and beauty than these translations. A writer in the London Magazine, Mr. Bowring, we believe, has found fault with them, as wanting in fidelity to their originals. And it appears to us that they are altogether different from the meagre and unfinished pieces from which they purport to be taken; but whatever may be their merit as translations, they are certainly magnificent poems.
The tales throughout are very spirited and interesting.
The conversational sketches, the descriptions of scenery, the pictures of battle and bloodshed, are executed with equal vividness and truth. Among the stories with which we were most interested, were "The Gothic King," "The Poisoned Goblet," "The Infants of Lara," and those founded on the story of the Cid, and the downfall of Granada.
The Cid is altogether the most important personage who figures in early Spanish history. His exploits have been the subject of numerous romances, poems, and chronicles, and an endless series of songs and ballads.
Rodrigo of Bivar was born, as we learn from Mr. Southey's "Chronicle," in the year of the Incarnation 1026, of noble lineage, in the city of Burgos. He began his career, by defying to mortal combat, and slaying the lord of Gorinaz, who had insulted his father by a blow. Ximena Gomez, the daughter of the Count whom he had slain, forgave him her father's death; and with the favor of king Ferdinand, they "took their vows, and plighted themselves, each to the other, according as the law directs." During the reign of Ferdinand, Rodrigo distinguished himself in many battles with the Moors, and received the appellation of Ruy Diez, the Cid, with the honor of knighthood.
Don Sancho ascended the throne on the death of Ferdinand, and was himself succeeded by Alfonso. The Cid, by evil tongues, was misrepresented to this prince, who peremptorily ordered him to quit his dominions. With a number of cavaliers, who remained faithful to his banner, he retired into the country of the Moors; took possession of some of their castles, and enriched himself by immense spoils. A messenger was sent by him to the king, with splendid presents, and to offer becoming tokens of attachPleased with his valuable gifts, and having occasion for his services, the king thought fit to recall him from exile. The Cid again lost the good will of Alfonso, was a second time banished, and a second time restored to favor. He continued to work brilliant achievements among the Moors, and won of them numerous cities. He captured Valencia, after a long siege, established a bishopric there, and, sending to Burgos for his wife and daughters, resolved on making it his permanent residence.
remainder of his life he passed in this independent principality; honored with the love of his vassals, and the favor of Alfonso. It is said that there is no hero, whose fame is so intimately connected with the poetry and history of his native land, as is that of the Cid.
The downfall of Granada affords Don Trueba a subject for an interesting romance. This has been another fruitful theme to Spanish ballad-writers and chroniclers. And the many passages of valor and heroism, the hazardous exploits, daring adventures, and gloomy reverses, which marked the last war of Granada, are indeed worthy the highest efforts of the poet and historian. It was the desperate struggle of a proud and brave people, to defend the sole portion that remained to them of a country which had been conquered and transmitted by their ancestors. Every inch of ground had been manfully disputed. But towers and castles were razed, cities besieged and captured, and all the strong holds of the country, one by one, delivered into the hands of the Christians. The remnant of a powerful people, wealthy merchants, their wives and children, proud chieftains, and the relics of their defeated armies, were crowded into the only city that remained to the devoted followers of the crescent. The city of Granada,—the heart of the kingdom, the pride of the people, and the residence of their monarchs,—was now the forlorn hope of their defence. But the cross gleams from the tower, which was once graced by the standard of the Prophet-and a mighty dominion is for ever blotted from the earth.
From the earliest ages of her settlement, there have always been associations of a romantic character connected with the history of Spain. While a Roman province, she was distinguished for her progress in the arts and refinements of civilized life, and furnished several imperial masters to the world. When the barbarian conquerors swept over the southern countries of Europe, they found a delightful resting-place among the vineyards and gardens of Spain.
The gloomy empire of the Goths was established for nearly three centuries; but notwithstanding its extent and power, was subverted, in two battles, by the Saracens. The dominion of the Arabs was more mild and generous: and the sciences and arts were carried to the highest per
fection. Literature, poetry, and music were cultivated with enthusiasm and success. But the Goths, who retired, after their defeats, to the mountain fastnesses, had been gathering new strength and disposition for war. They by degrees won back their old territories. City after city yielded; plain after plain was ravaged; and in eight centuries from the first defeats of the Goths, the whole land was restored to them by the final expulsion of the Moors from Granada.
The expulsion of the Moors took place during the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. Spain was at that time at the height of her prosperity. New mines of wealth, and inducements to enterprise had been opened, in the discovery of another world. Notwithstanding the wars by which they had been harassed, the nation continued wealthy and populous.
At this period the condition of Spain was exactly the reverse of what it is at present. She was powerful and respected; her population was industrious, rich, and happy ; her commerce, agriculture, and manufactures, were flourishing; and she possessed in her colonies a promise of unbounded wealth. The honors of literature were added to the elegant refinements and luxuries of art. Though a nation of haughty cavaliers, who submitted to no indignity, they were in no danger from civil dissensions or foreign invasion.
We see her now, with an empty treasury, a diminished population, ruined commerce and manufactures, with neither respectability nor power abroad, nor any of the arts that make a people happy and contented at home.
When bigoted princes unite with a licentious and ambitious priesthood, to break down the spirit of a people, their success cannot long remain doubtful. Where there is no freedom of speech, there can be no security. The powers that have been wielded by the clergy of Spain, are such as have never been entrusted to any other set of men under heaven; and it is to the exercise of these powers that her present gloomy condition may be attributed. Of her inhabitants, the haughty have been worked upon by spiritual terrors; the weak by fear of bodily suffering;-the wealthy have been obliged to surrender their riches; and the poor have found no inducement to amass them.