THE SPANISH CHARACTER 

 

From "The Magic of Spain" by Aubrey Bell, 1912

 

1. Stray Opinions

 

To collect a mass of isolated and contradictory opinions concerning the Spanish is a comparatively simple task, although it is difficult or impossible to derive from them a consistent picture of Spanish character.

 

To Wellington they are “ this extraordinary and perverse people,” to whom to boast of Spain’s strength was a natural weakness.

 

“Procrastination and improvidence are their besetting sins,” says Napier, and of their conduct in the Peninsular War : “ Of proverbially vivid imagination and quick resentments, the Spaniards act individually rather than nationally, and, during this war, what appeared constancy of purpose was but a repetition of momentary fury generated like electric sparks by constant collision with the French.” “The Spaniards are perfect masters of saying everything and doing nothing. They have dignified sentiments and lofty expressions, but taken with their deeds these are “ but a strong wind blowing shrivelled leaves.” “In the arrangement of warlike affairs difficulties are always overlooked by the Spaniards, who are carried on from one fantasy to another so swiftly that the first conception of an enterprise is immediately followed by a confident anticipation of complete success.” Though they are “hasty in revenge and feeble in battle,” they are “ patient to the last degree in suffering.” To the peasants he allows “ a susceptibility of grand sentiments.” They “ endure calamity, men and women alike, with a singular and unostentatious courage.  But their virtues are passive, their faults active, and, instigated by a peculiar arrogance, they are perpetually projecting enterprises which they have not sufficient vigour to execute.” “To neglect real resources and fasten upon imaginary projects is peculiarly Spanish.”

 

A French writer of the same period, General Marbot, contents himself with observing that the Spanish “ont beaucoup conserve du caractere des Arabes et sont fatalistes; aussi répétaient-ils sans cesse ‘Lo que ha de ser no puede faltar,’ “ but adds that “ ils ont un merite immense, c’est que, bien que battus, ils ne se decouragent jamais.”

 

Turning to earlier centuries we find that in Livy and Strabo the Spaniards are obstinate, unsociable, silent, dressed in black, despisers of death, very sober.

 

In the centuries of Spain’s greatness the comments naturally thicken, although they are often not easily reconcilable. To an Italian, Paolo Cortese, at the beginning of the sixteenth century the Spanish are, in a shower of epithets, “ambitious, good-natured, curious, greedy, contentious, tenacious, magnificent, suspicious, sly.” Another Italian, Paolo Tiepolo, later draws a distinction(1) between those who have travelled and those who have not left Spain, those former being “ per la maggior parte avvisati, diligenti, tolleranti.”

 

In Pepys we read of the “ ceremoniousness of the Spaniards,” and that “ the Spaniards are the best disciplined foot in the world ; will refuse no extraordinary service if commanded, but scorn to be paid for it as in other countries,” and of “ the plain habit of the Spaniards, how the King and Lords themselves wear but a cloak of Colchester bayze, and the ladies mantles in cold weather of white flannell.”

 

To a learned Spaniard, Masdeu, they are, to quote but a few of his judgments, “ lively, swift in conception, slow and thoughtful in coming to a resolution, active and effectual in carrying it into execution. They are the stoutest defenders of religion, and masters in asceticism.” “ Their disinterestedness and honesty in commerce is known to all. They are frugal at table, especially averse from any excess in drinking. In conversation they are serious and taciturn, not giving to biting speech, courteous, affable, and pleasant ; they hate flattery, but they respect others and look to be respected themselves. They speak with majesty, but without affectation. They are generous, serviceable, kindly, and have a pleasure in conferring benefits, and they exalt things foreign more than their own.  They have envy, pride, and a love of glory, but with noble, redeeming qualities. In their attire they are neat and moderate; when they go abroad they are dressed well and smartly, but with a befitting gravity.” “ They spend with magnificence and extravagance.”

 

A French traveller, Mme. d’Aulnoy,(2) in the seventeenth century, says of the Spanish that “ Nature has been kinder to them than they are to themselves ; they are born with more wit than others; they have a great quickness of mind join’d with great solidity; they speak and deliver their words with ease ; they have a great memory ; their style is neat and concise, and they are quick of apprehension; it is easy to teach them whatever they have a mind to; they are perfect masters in Politicks, and when there is a necessity for it they are temperate and laborious.” ...” They are patient to excess, obstinate, idle, singular philosophers ; and, as to  the rest, men of honour, keeping their words tho’ it cost them their lives.” She considers their greatest defect to be a “ passion for revenge,” and speaks of” their’ fantastick grandeur.”

 

A short account by an Englishman in 1701, has little good to say of the Spanish, except that they “ have an incomparable zeal to plant the Catholic Religion.” He notes their sluggishness, their immorality, and it is, moreover, impossible to distinguish a Spanish Cavalier from a Cobbler, while most of their houses are “of earth and like Mole-hills, but one storey high.”

 

They have an “ esprit orgueilleux,” and treat strangers “ de turc a maure,” says a Frenchman of the same period,(3) so that the Englishman may have had some slight, some turc a maure experience in Spain.

 

Another Englishman,(4) half a century later, writes that the Spanish are “ generous, liberal, magnificent, and charitable ; religious without dispute, but devout to the greatest excess of superstition.” . . . “If they have any predominant fault it is perhaps that of being rather too high-minded ; hence they have entertained, at different times, the most extravagant conceits.” . . .  “ Their clothes are usually of a very dark colour, and their cloaks almost black. This shows the natural gravity of the people.” ...” There are no soldiers in the whole world braver than the Spanish.”

 

Reclus, in his estimate of the Spanish, has boldly allowed the contrasts and contradictions of Spanish character to stand side by side. They are “ apathetic in daily life, but of a quick resolution, persistent courage and un-wearying tenacity. They are vain, but if any one has a right to be so, they have. In spite of their pride they are simple and pleasant in their manners.  They esteem themselves highly, but they are equally ready to recognize the merit of others. They are very swift and keen to lay a finger on the weak side or the vices of other people, but never bemean themselves by despising them. They have a great store of seriousness, a rare firmness of character. They are contented with their lot and are fatalists. A mixture of superstition and ignorance, common-sense, and subtle irony; they are at times ferocious, though naturally of a magnanimous generosity, fond of revenge, yet forgetting injuries, fond of equality, yet guilty of oppression.”

 

The verdicts of modern Spanish thinkers have been mostly pessimistic.(5) Spaniards in the twentieth century have been busily occupied with analytical introspection, the result of their national misfortunes and injured pride. They prefer to speak atrociously of themselves than that foreigners should speak of them only moderately well.

 

Señor Mallada holds(6) his countrymen to be “ idle, impractical dreamers.” In Spain, says Angel Ganivet,(7) “there are many who have no will, hay muchos enfermos de la voluntad “—there is a lack of concentration, that is of persistent concentration, and a lack of proportion, of the power to consider more than one idea, more than one aspect of a question. So Azorin complains that “there is plenty of insight and rapid vision, but no co-ordination of ideas or steady fulfilment or will.”(8)

 

In a book by Ricardo Leon (9) we read that the Spanish are hostile to their rulers, whoever they may be, and of the evils of el Caciquismo. But the author sees little hope of change in a country where men live between two extremes, “two fires, two fanaticisms,” either reactionaries or demagogues ; where the current of activity and passion are unregulated, where thought is either stagnant or enmeshed in a gossamer woof of subtle distinctions, and the golden mean of common-sense is not attained. The inhabitants of Alcala are “ strong, hard, brave, and stubborn, rigorous in their virtues and their vices, violent in their loves and hates, tenacious alike of good and of evil.” To counterbalance their clear intelligence, great-heartedness, quick imagination and eloquence they have serious defects, “ and especially a certain un-restfulness of spirit, a nervous irritability which prevents them from living in peace or comfort with themselves or with others, a true Spanish failing, peculiarly attached both of old and at the present day to that harsh, turbulent, strongly original character of the race which has never allowed us rest, but kept us perpetually at strife, taking umbrage at our very shadows.” . . .  “ While there were infidels to fight, strongholds to defend, vows to fulfil, or even when there were civil wars and vigorous smuggling and bands of brigands,” there was scope for the virtues and vices of a people “ born and bred for action and passionate deeds,” “ fashioned in battle”; but “on the advent of the moderate customs of modern times “ they find themselves “ out of their natural atmosphere, idle, poor, disconcerted, cramped.” And this is the tragedy of Spain to-day - a great-hearted people in the toils of civilization.

 

In Perez Galdos’ “El Caballero Encantado,” the spirit of Spain thus addresses one of her sons : “ The capital defect of the Spaniards of your time is that you live exclusively the life of words, and the language is so beautiful that the delight in the sweet sound of it woos you to sleep. You speak too much; you lavish without stint a wealth of phrases to conceal the poverty of your actions.” (10)

 

In an earlier book(11) Señor Leon deplores the fashion prevailing in Spain “ to depreciate all that is Spanish, and to bestow great praise on all that is foreign. A wave of moral cowardice and utilitarian baseness is passing over Spain.” But Spanish character is not permanently weakened nor shorn of its dignity and independence, the eclipse is but temporary and, indeed, partial, not affecting the humbler classes. The spirit of Spain will revive, as in “El Caballero Encantado,” when it is being carried from the death-bed to the grave,(12) and may be aptly likened, as by Don Rafael Altamira, to the waters of the Guardiana which, after flowing for a space underground, return once more to the surface.

 

2. Vain Generalities.

 

“ And indeed,” wrote Pepys, “ we do all naturally love the Spanish and hate the French,” and if, since his day, we have learned to love the French, the character of the Spanish has not ceased to attract and interest Englishmen. Yet any attempt to generalize concerning Spanish character would seem a vain and foolish task, since Spain is the country of Europe which has most stringently preserved its local differences of race and language, and it is still true, as in Ford’s time, that “ the rude agricultural Galician, the industrious manufacturing artisan of Barcelona, the gay and voluptuous Andalucian, the sly vindictive Valencian are as essentially different from each other as so many distinct characters at the same masquerade,” and the Basque (13) and Andaluz, for instance, are as far apart as Frenchman and Spaniard. It is possible to take the various ingredients, Castilian pride,(14) Catalan thrift,(15) Andalusian imagination, Gallegan dullness,(16) the grimness of Navarre, the stubbornness of Aragon, (17) Valencian or Murcian cunning, and, tying them into a convenient bundle, to speak of the Spanish as proud, thrifty, etc., or, in a more pessimistic key, as haughty, avaricious, untruthful, stolid, cruel, obstinate, malicious. But, though such a judgment is notoriously false, a few qualities may perhaps be attributed to the whole of Spain as in some measure common to her various peoples.

 

Foremost among these qualities are independence and personal dignity. The Spaniards are a nation of individualists, each a law unto himself, and they are thus as a nation frequently misunderstood and their pride has not suffered them to correct errors concerning them, while at the same time it would perhaps be difficult to find in any other nation so great a number of individuals whom one may admire and respect.

 

The dramatist Don Jacinto Benavente has said(18) that in Spain “ each of us would like to be the only great man in a nation of fools, the only honest man in a tribe of knaves,” and speaks of “ our unbridled individualism.” No one is a more thorough individualist than Don Pio Baroja, and the principal character of his novel, Cesar ó Nada, declares that the Spanish, “ as individualists require, more than a democratic, federal organization, an iron military discipline.” “Democracy, Republicanism, Socialism have in reality little root in our country. . . .  Moreover we admit no superiorities and do not willingly accept king or president, priest or prophet.” It is this refractoriness which has made the Spanish so hard a people to govern, and wrought permanent mischief to their prosperity as a nation. They would seem to have still to learn the true dignity of loyalty and service.

 

Every Spaniard, of however humble a position, considers that he is well qualified to criticize the measures of his rulers, and still more the fancied measures that he chooses to attribute to them. Thus in a Republic every citizen would believe himself to be capable of conducting the affairs of the nation better than the President, as Sancho was convinced that he could govern his island as well or better than any ; nevertheless Spaniards are inclined to acquiesce in a firm unquestioned authority with a kind of heroic submission, accepting its decisions as they accept the inevitable decrees of fate, and for this reason an old-established system of government, such as the Monarchy, is infinitely the best suited to the Spanish temperament. No doubt they would prefer to have no system of government, if that were possible, being restive and tumultuous under restraint.

 

On one occasion a Spanish chauffeur while driving his mistress considered that he had been insulted by a passer in the street and, leaving mistress and motor, proceeded to punish the offender till the police interfered.(19)

 

And if the Spanish find it difficult to work harmoniously under the orders of others, it is no easier for them to maintain a joint authority ; they can never co-operate for long, their political parties and commercial unions rapidly fall asunder like the seeds of a pomegranate.

 

Similarly one may see at a glance of any Spanish crowd that it is not a fused mass but a collection of units remaining aloof and separate ; if the individual gains, the State suffers, and Spanish politics sometimes have an air of cramping angularities and crude ambitions. But this individualism and independence has its nobler and more pleasant side, for even in extreme poverty and distress, dignity and an accompanying courtesy, honesty, and sobriety,(20) rarely desert the Spaniard. 

 

Each is king in his own house, be it miserable attic or merely the space of sun that his shadow covers ; mientras en mi casa me estoy rey me soy.  The following dialogue bears intrinsic evidence of its nationality, it could not belong to any country but Spain : “ Is your worship a thief ?“—“ Yes, to serve God and all good people.” (21)

 

Thus personal dignity and individual pride may be said to be the dominant notes of Spain. So the beggars in the street address one another as Sir, señor, lord, and if you cannot give them an alms for the good of your soul you must at least give excuses — perdone Vd. por Dios.

 

While we admire this independence we cannot help seeing that it is a false dignity, which prefers to starve, like one of the characters in Perez Galdos’ Fortunata y Jacinta, because “ mi dignidad y significancia no me remiten—my dignity and importance do not allow me,” to accept employment. The fair outward show given to garret poverty is pathetic, but it is liable to deceive and to create distrust. Mme. d’Aulnoy remarked that the Spanish “bear up under this Indigency with such an air of gravity as would cheat one.”

 

In Love’s Labour’s Lost Don Adriano de Armado says to Moth that he is “ ill at reckoning ; it fitteth the spirit of a tapster,” but to Moth’s observation, “You are a gentleman and a gamester, Sir,” he answers well-pleased, “ I confess both ; they are both the varnish of a complete man” (todo un hombre). 

 

The Spanish have ever shown themselves to be ill at reckoning, they are careless of details and have indeed an Oriental incuriousness of facts and figures; in no country is it more difficult to obtain accurate returns or consecutive statistics. Against all drudgery the Spanish temperament rebels (22) ; they act by impulse, in disconnected moments without persistency ; their concentration is of instants,(23) without consequence ; and it has been observed that “ Spain has developed her life and art by means of spiritual convulsions.”

 

What is said in one of Perez Galdos’ novels(24) of Narvaez might with truth be applied to many Spaniards : “ He has a great heart and a great intelligence, but they manifest themselves only by fits and starts, by impulses, por arranques.”

 

There is plenty of intelligence among Spaniards but little continuity of judgment ; no perseverance. They are enthusiastic for a project and, their thoughts outrunning action, they see the matter begun, in progress, finished, so that their very keenness prevents accomplishment, and finally nothing is done. Don Quixote, we remember, thought little of the winning of a kingdom and cutting off a giant’s head : “all that I consider already done, que todo esto doy ya por hecho”

 

Or sometimes their intelligence mars their labour and, not content with doing a simple thing simply, they spoil it by being a little too clever, or decide a matter too readily by a swift judgment that may happen to be false. The Spanish are a people of immense and abiding energy,(25) but their energy is often dormant or misdirected.

 

Two Spaniards in the twentieth century have been seen to converse with so fierce an intensity that it seemed over and over again in the course of a protracted and loud discussion that they must come from words to blows; and the matter in dispute, conducted with a heat that would have exhausted less energetic natures, was whether it was right or wrong to expel the Moriscos from Spain at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

 

Yet it is not certain that the Spanish can be called unpractical ; they are often idle, indifferent, aloof from the events of daily life, but when a matter truly interests them, they would seem to be sufficiently shrewd and practical. 

 

King James I. of Aragon aimed an accusation at the Castilians which has often been applied to all Spaniards: “You do nothing without extravagance”.(26)

 

But a fundamental ingredient of Spanish character is realism and clear vision; it is their birthright of transparent subtle air and unclouded skies. They are keen to detect all falseness and hypocrisy, and display a shrewd insight into character ; but their study has been ever of persons rather than of books and things,(27) so that they may act extravagantly themselves even while they are the first to see another’s extravagance, keenly practical, it may be said, in the affairs of others, strangely abstract and improvident in their own. Their realism, if it drives them by reaction into a barren love of words and visions of impossible ideals, expresses itself in a directness which is very characteristic of all classes of Spaniards, in the pregnant brevity of countless proverbs, in concentrated intensity at a given moment, in humour and satire and a strong love of ridicule. Their proverbs show a thriftiness and practical good sense very different from the prudence that enriches, but equally far removed from the romantic view of Spaniards sometimes held by foreigners.

 

In noble lines Calderon has said of life that it is “a shadow, a fantasy, and the greatest good is of small worth, since all life is a dream and dreams themselves a dream

- que es la vida ? Un frenesi.

- que es la vida ? Una ilusión,

- una sombra, una ficción,

- y el mayor bien es pequeño,

- que toda la vida es sueño

- y los sueños sueño son;

 

but we may doubt whether the following lines of Lope de Vega are not as truly Spanish in spirit :

Nada me parece bien,

Todos me son importunos.

Teneis dineros ?—Ningunos.

— Pues procurad que os los den.

 

“ I see no good in anything ; all men weary me.

Have you money ?—None—Then see that you get some given you.”(28)

 

An almost harsh flavour of originality is found in Spanish humour, a sly and malicious irony, a biting wit, full of gaiety and good humour, but of great force and directness.

 

Their courtesy is proverbial, and it is not simply a superficial politeness, brittle as glass, but goes to the very core of the man. A knowledge of Spain would seem to show that the mere forms of politeness have no little effect in maintaining the dignity of a nation.  The Spaniard, writing from his own house, speaks of it as está su casa, this your house, and to a tradesman he will sign himself, “ Your sure servant, who kisses your hands” (S.S.S., Q.B.S.M. which is shorter than the corresponding English, “ Yours faithfully”); mere forms, it will be said, but forms that show the spirit and betray the lordly and generous magnificence of the men who once ruled the world, and of whom Bacon wrote: “I have marvelled sometimes at Spain, how they clasp and contain so large dominions with so few natural Spaniards.”

 

As a kind of magnificent disregard of human life has earned for Spaniards the charge of cruelty, so their attitude towards time has led many to look upon them as lazy and utterly unbusinesslike.(29) “The Spartans and Spaniards have been noted to be of small dispatch,” says Bacon, and this procrastination and delay was as prominent in the spacious times of Spain’s greatness as at the present day. We need but think of the endless trailing procedure of Inquisition trials, or of books waiting on the frontier for inspection with a man hired to dust them once a month. In ordinary life it is due perhaps rather to indifference and disdain than to an innate sluggishness ; in official transactions formalism, and the inability to co-operate with others often bring matters to an intricate pass of papers, from which there is no issue but by a patient and slow unravelling. Even to-day a rigid centralization carries the pettiest affair to Madrid for settlement, and lays upon the Prime Minister a crushing load of work.

 

Etiquette is carried to excess, and there are in Spain many “ formal natures,” men who would perish upon a ceremony rather than come to a quick and common-sense conclusion. But the true defect of Spanish politics is that they have a tendency to become abstract, with many excellent formulas and catchwords, but divorced from reality, a kind of up-to-date scholasticism. Sometimes they appear to be a game of dialectics, carried on by a few skilful players, sometimes a “ rushing splendour of rhetoric,” carrying away many. Spaniards are fond of what Butler calls “ that idle and not very innocent employment of forming imaginary models of the world and schemes of governing it.” Spanish politicians, says Senor Perez Galdos, “ live in a world of rituals and formulas, recipes and expedients. The language has filled with aphorisms and mottos and emblems. Ideas become stereotyped, and contemplated actions go seeking to embody themselves in words and cannot make their choice of them.” (30)

 

It would seem indeed that reality has shown itself so angular and hard-featured to the Spanish that they gladly make efforts to escape from it. While no nation shows so great a courage, endurance and patient endeavour in misfortune and defeat, they are not equally successful in success, they are often spoilt by prosperity and become weak, dissolute and frivolous ; they must have something to fight, and fall when they no longer press against opposition. This may account for the fact that the poorer classes are still, as in Ford’s time, “by no means the worst portion of the population.” The peasants are courteous, intelligent, patient, energetic and persevering : their praises have been sung by many writers.(31) But a pathetic fatalism and apathy prevail, and a great bitterness against those in authority. Pobreza nunca alza cabeza, poverty never raises its head, they say, la carcel y la cuaresma para los pobres es hecha, prison and Lent are for the poor ; they look for no bettering of their lot, but for pan y paciencia y muerte con penitencia—bread and patience and death with repentance. But it must be said that the fault is not only of those “ on top,” but of those also who, brooking no superiorities of any kind,(32) thus reduce differences between man and man to the brutal divisions of wealth and poverty and make life a race for riches. It remains true, however, that the peasants of Spain are ground down by taxes,(33) and work incessantly only to hover on the fringes of starvation ; todo sea por Dios, they say, and content themselves with the observation that honesty and riches do not fit into one sack — honra y provecho no caben en un saco.

 

There is a certain elemental hardness in the Spanish which helps them to support hardships stoically and, indeed, to be scornful of modern comforts and luxury. Their indifference towards disquiet and discomfort and noisy uproar (34) often dismays the foreigner, but it is not that they are inconsiderate of the feelings of others, they have a deep sensitiveness and refinement, but they have not been enervated and rendered over-sensitive by a luxurious civilization.

 

Their climate, with its harsh extremes of cold and heat,(35) produces a people like that of Leon’s Alcatel de los Zegries, “ rigorous in their virtues and their vices, violent in their loves and hates.” They go easily to extremes ; Spanish intellects are apt to be either totally undeveloped, or else over-subtle in nice distinctions, and action in the same way, when it comes, comes with violence and excess, like the rivers of Spain which, parched all summer, pour down after rain in rushing torrents.

 

The charges of cruelty and fanaticism, the bull-fight and the auto-de-fe, have fixed themselves upon the Spanish. They are by nature inflexible and uncompromising, and like to carry out their principles without looking to the many delicate shades of grey between white and black. But they are not by nature cruel ; they support bodily sufferings with courage and inflict them upon others as the lesser of two evils, burning the heretics to prevent the spread of their heresy ; and indeed to men convinced that these “ pertinacious schismaticks “ were to burn for ever and ever in another place, a touch of fire in this life could hardly seem an excessive punishment.(36).

 

Cruelty to animals on the roads of Spain is extremely rare, and at the bull-fights(37) it is only fair to observe that, while the foreigner’s attention is directed to the sufferings of the horses, the whole mind of the Spaniard is bent on intricacies of the conflict between man and bull, and nice passes which escape the foreigner(38).

 

The autos de-fe and the Inquisition have cast over Spain a reputation for fanaticism and obscurantist bigotry. But the Spanish, while eager supporters of their faith, are too independent to bow down for long to a Clerical predominance ; they cannot be called a priest-ridden nation. (39) Ni buen fraile por amigo, ni malo por enemigo, says one of their proverbs—make no friend of a good monk, nor enemy of a bad ; and again, Haz lo que dice el fraile no lo que hace—follow the monk’s precept, not his example. They believe uncompromisingly in the Roman Catholic religion, but have a ready eye for the faults of its ministers ;(40) they love and reverence the Church as a refuge from reality, but continue to be realists in their mysticism.

 

The Church in Spain has done noble work, but it has been a retreat more than a morality, encouraging hollow shows rather than love of truth, (41) patience and submission rather than enterprise and a persistent search for remedies. The anti-Clericals complain that the influence of the priest in the family is excessive, but when the women are kept in a semi-Oriental seclusion, while the men chatter together in street and casino and cafe, as still happens in many parts of Spain,(42) it is but natural for the women to turn from the discomfort and isolation of their homes to the magnificent ceremonies of the Church.(43)

 

The Spaniards are naturally inclined to generosity and a love of magnificence, but, their poverty preventing, this too often degenerates to shams and hollowness.  To poverty and the proud concealment of poverty, much of the feeling of suspicion which prevails in Spain may be attributed. A large number of Spaniards may be said to be well-to-do in the street poverty-stricken in the home.

 

The family in Pereda’s Bocetos al temple which chooses without a moment’s hesitation to live on potatoes in order to be able to dress luxuriously, is no solitary instance, and in Madrid many live in bare rooms who drive abroad in carriages. The Spanish are more careful of outward show than any other nation. The universal neatness and soldierly smartness of their dress must excite admiration. But watch a poor man fold and refold the brilliantly lined outer edge of his capa that the more worn portions of the velvet may not appear—the capa which may itself cover a multitude of sins (la capa todo lo tapa) that recalls the passage in Shakespeare :- “ Armado : The naked truth of it is I have no shirt. I go woolward for penance. Boyet: True, and it was enjoined him in Home for want of linen.” Or follow a smart officer through the streets to his house. The position and entrance of the house will not prepare you for its decreasing splendour as you climb stair after stair to the bare rooms where he lives. There is much that is postizo, false and artificial, in the exterior view, as Spaniards will themselves bitterly confess.

 

Appearances must be maintained. So Bacon says that “ It hath been an opinion that the Frenchmen are wiser than they seem and the Spaniards seem wiser than they are,” and many of their houses are built not to live in but to look on. Hence, partly, a disquieting element of mistrust, of “suspicions that ever fly by twilight “ foreign to the frank and open nature of true Spaniards.

 

“ Of every Spanish undertaking,” writes Senor Benavente in 1909, “ it may be said as of the famous Cortes that it is ‘dishonoured while yet unborn.’ The result is that he who is jealous of his good name shuns contact with all business affairs like pitch, and the affairs fall into the hands of men who are untroubled by scruples. . . . All these suspicions and distrusts are a sign rather of our poverty than of our morality. There is so great a scarcity of money that it becomes unintelligible that any one who has the handling of it should fail to keep a part for himself. . . . We are, moreover, so firmly attached to old-fashioned ideas of nobility — rancias hidalguias—that, in spite of our pressing need of money, we still consider its acquisition contemptible; so we prefer to seek it by subterranean channels as if it were a crime to seek it in the light of day.”

 

Suspicion of new things has ever been at once the strength and the weakness of Spain.(44) In the nineteenth century this suspicion expressed itself in patriotism carried to its extreme logical conclusion. Were Napoleon’s reforms of a nature to benefit Spain in an inestimable degree? To the Spaniard they were the tyrannical and insidious measures of a usurper. Was his brother Joseph intelligent, well-intentioned, conciliatory? To the Spaniard he was ever the squint-eyed drinker, Pepe Botellas, and it was idle to insist that he did not squint, and did not drink. Was King Amadeo an enlightened, courageous, and self-effacing ruler? To the Spaniard he was an intruder, to be treated with neglect, insolence or disdain. This distrust may have been foolish and harmful to the interests of Spain, but it was in many respects noble and admirable.

 

To-day, however, we have rather the reverse side of the picture, a pessimism about all things Spanish, and a foolish tendency to imitate things foreign. Beneath his outer capa of haughty pride the Spaniard is keenly aware of his limitations ; he has no confidence in his own actions or in his country, or, rather, his confidence is merely momentary and is never sustained.

 

It is, no doubt, a sign not of progress but degeneracy to exchange the Spanish capa, peculiarly suited to a climate of hot sun and cold air, for English overcoats or the becoming mantilla for the newest fashion in Parisian hats. It is not necessarily a sign of progress to exchange old-fashioned Spanish piety for the latest shades of scepticism, or to leave the simple life of an hidalgo in the provinces for the idler, dissipated life in the only capital and court. The desire to be very modern is at present a good thing in Spain, yet it need not consist in casting aside old traditions and diffidently rejecting Spanish customs that are excellent.

 

This exalting of foreign customs and depreciation of their own which has been frequently observed of Spaniards, is due rather to an inverted pride than to humility ; at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was considered a mark of culture in Spain to despise things Spanish and to worship things French, but all the time the Spanish believe at heart in themselves,(45) they praise foreign countries with their lips, but continue to place Spain first, and if they imitate, they cast a peculiarly Iberian flavour over their imitations.

 

The late Bishop Creighton, looking at Spain historically, remarked that it “leaves the curious impression of a country which never did anything original—now the Moors, now France, now Italy, have influenced it.” If this is so, certainly the Moors, and France, and Italy have wrought some of their most original works in Spain ; and it can hardly be said that the great Spanish discoverers and conquerors, painters, philosophers, and poets of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries were not original, whether they were influenced by Moors, Frenchmen, or Italians.(46)

 

But, indeed, the Spaniard more readily repels than assimilates, it is his virtue and his defect ; he remains isolated and alone, difficult to convince, impossible to govern. New political and social theories from France are spread in Spain, but they there serve progress less than disquiet and the rancour of those who have not towards those who have.

 

The reforms needed by Spain will not be furthered by riots and disorder, and the demagogues who encourage them are perhaps less patriotic than they profess to be. For Spain needs peace, long periods of tranquillity in which to develop her resources and to learn the more difficult task of maintaining in prosperity that strength and independent nobility of character which have shone out so clearly in misfortune. 

 

The conclusion then, if so desultory a study warrants a conclusion, is that the Spanish are a fundamentally noble, courteous, and independent people, energetic and brave, with a natural tendency to grandeur and generosity, whom poverty often leads to hollow display and the consequent suspicion and distrust. They will be at immense pains to “ bear up under their indigency,” but have a greater consideration for the semblance than for the reality and substance of well-being, for artificial show, supported by infinite care and ingenuity, than for a more solid prosperity, based on serious effort. Their realism, throwing into relief the apparent pettiness of daily life, causes them to dream dreams and weave fragile abstract palaces of fair-sounding phrases ; they have not that useful quality of accuracy, an understanding of the value and importance of details and gradual effort, of pennies and minutes : they will smite a stone in twain at a great blow, but the idea that it might be pierced by drops of water saepe cadendo is foreign to them, and often they aim at a million and miss a unit. They are a nation of strongly original characters, acting on impulses and intermittently, and thinking in extremes ; often failing in the face of prosperity, but proud, resolute, and patient in misfortune; often magnificently imprudent, but never despicable, except to those whose worship is of riches and success ; an admirable but discomfortable people, not adapting itself readily to modern conditions, but ever to be reckoned with as an energetic, vital force, not bowing permanently before defeat.

 

Footnotes

 

(1) The distinction still holds good, and those Spaniards who have travelled, e.g. to Buenos Aires, differ by a certain practical energy and optimism from those who have never left the Peninsula

 

(2) The Ingenious and Diverting Letters of the Lady .  Travels into Spain.” English translation. Second edition. London. 1692.

 

(3) Villefranche. “ Etat present d’Espagne.” 1717. 

 

(4) Edward Clarke. "Letters concerning the Spanish Nation." London. 1763.

 

(5) This pessimism “ is based on our recent disasters ; on the fact that we are fallen, a terrible fact in the implacable merciless logic of international life ; on the momentary lack of will from which we are suffering ; and on the anachronism of certain vices and ideals which, since they can no longer, as in past ages, be excused on the ground that other nations share them, seem to show that we are incorrigible.” Rafael Altamira, “Psicologfa del Pueblo Español“ (Madrid. 1902), in which will be found several of the opinions quoted above.

 

(6) “ Los Males de la Patria.”

 

(7) “Idearium Español.”

 

(8) “ La Voluntad.” Barcelona. 1902 : “ La intuicion de las cosas, la vision rapida no falta, pero falta, en cambio, la co-ordinacion reflexiva, el laboreo paciente, la voluntad.”

 

(9) “ Alcala de los Zegries.” Madrid. 1910

 

(10) Saints in other countries have carried their heads in their hands, but there is a legend of a saint in Spain who, not content to walk a league with his head under his arm, continued to talk the while without ceasing. He was, no doubt “concealing the poverty of his action,” like Bertram dal Bornio, carrying his head “ a guisa di lanterna “ in the Inferno.

 

(11) “ Comedia Sentimental.” 1909.

 

(12) One may apply to it the words of Santa Teresa:-

“ Tiene tan divinas mafias

Que en un tan acerbo trance

Sale triunfando del lance

Obrando grandes hazafias.”

 

(13) Ford considered the Basque to be as “ proud as Lucifer and as combustible as his matches,” and there is a proverb, “ En nave y en castillo no mas que un Vizcaino.” Cf. Camoes. Os Lusiadas :

A gente biscainha que carece

De polidas razoes e que as injurias

Muito mal dos estranhos compadece.

 

(14) The Castilians, said King James I. of Aragon, are very haughty and proud : de gran ufania e erguylhosos. In the Lusiads the Castilian is “ grande e raro.”

 

(15) The line of Dante is well known : “ l’avara poverta di Catalogna.” Napier speaks of “ the Catalans, a fierce and constant race.”

 

(16) The Gallegan, “ o Gallego cauto “ and “ sordidos Gallegos duro bando,” in Camoes, ever remains the butt of Spanish wit. The inhabitants of the Montana are considered almost equally dense : “ El montanes para defender una necedad dice tres “ and again “ From Burgos to the sea all is stupidity.” The Asturian, of the region between Galicia and the Montana has, rather, the reputation of a business-like shrewdness, he is the Astur avarus of Martial and Silius Italicus ; in return for his boast that he has never had any infecting contact with the Moors, a proverb says : “ El asturiano, loco y vano, poco fiel y mal cristiano.”

 

(17) “ Para cantar los navarros, para llorar los franceses, parapegar cuatro tiros los mozos aragoneses.”

 

(18) In “ El Imparcial.”

 

(19) It is true that he was a Spanish Basque and was merely reproducing in modern dress the scene in “ Don Quixote,” in which the Biscayan leaves his mistresses unprotected in their carriage and fights in order to show that he is by birth a caballero.

 

(20) Drunkenness is especially rare in Spain. Their sobriety has been made a reproach, as being based on laziness and lack of initiative. The second half of their proverb : “ Goza de tu poco mientras busca mas el loco—Enjoy the little you have, and let the fool seek more “ is, indeed, as foolish as the first half is wise.

 

(21) Of. the “ altos pensamientos,” of Quevedo’s famous Pablos of Segovia and his father, the barber-thief, and the latter’s remark : “ Esto de ser ladron no es arte mecanica sino liberal”—the thief’s is no base mechanical trade, but a liberal profession.

 

(22) “ Drudgery they will do none at all.” Sir R. Wynn, “ A brief relation of what was observed by the Prince’s servants in their journey into Spain.” 1623.

 

(23) They have that momentary isolated intensity which M. Anatole France ascribes to men of action : “lis sont tout entiers dans le moment qu’ils vivent et leur g6nie se ramasse sur un point. lis se renouvellent sans cesse et ne se prolongent pas.”

 

(24) Episodios Nacionales. Narvaez. 1902.

 

(25) Cf. Joseph Townsend. “ A journey through Spain in the years 1786 and 1787,” 3 vols. London. 1792 : “ We must not imagine that the Spaniards are naturally indolent ; they are remarkable for activity, capable of strenuous exertions and patient of fatigue.” Another noteworthy judgment of the same author concerning the Spaniards is that “ Their ambition aims in everything at perfection, and by seeking too much they often obtain too little.”

 

(26) “Non hi ha res al mon que vosaltres non faessetz exir de mesura.”

 

(27) “La letra con sangre entra,” is a sad proverb of the Spanish and in the modern education of the printed page they are deficient. 

 

(28) Cf. the sayings, Poderoso caballero es don Dinero ; Dadivas quebrantan penas ; Dineros son calidad, etc. Sancho goes to govern the island of Barataria “ with a very great desire to make money.” The tendency is still to hoard, rather than invest, as did Don Bernard de Castil Blazo in Gil Bias, keeping 50,000 ducats in a chest in his house.

 

(29) Spaniards prefer to enjoy time as a gift sent by the gods, than to waste it in trying to spend it too nicely. El tiempo lo da Dios ; Dios mejora las horas ; Con el tiempo maduran las uvas. To a peasant two o’clock on a day of March is “ four more hours of sun.” Time is not parcelled out mechanically into tiny divisions by clocks.  Distances are given by hours—an hour to a league. The Catalans are less lavish of the minutes ; to a stranger asking the distance to a village near Tarragona, a peasant answered cannily in Catalan, “ un cuart y mitj “—that is, the village was a quarter of an hour and half a quarter of an hour distant. Curiously the Catalans give the hour as in German, e.g. half-past eight is dos cuarts de nou —halb Neun.

 

(30) “El Caballero encantado,”1909: “Vivert en un mundo de ritualidades, de formulas, de tramites y recetas. El lenguaje se ha llenado de aforismos, de lemas y emblemas ; las ideas salen plagadas de motes, y cuando las acciones quieren producirse andan buscando la palabra en que han de encarnarse y no acaban de elegir.” The Spaniards speak with conviction of the great gulf fixed between word and deed : - del dicho al hecho hay gran trecho ; Los dichos en nos, los hechos en Dios.

 

(31) Cf. a speaker in the Cortes in June, 1910 : “ Aqui no hay nada tan alto como las clases bajas.” 

 

(32) Don Ramiro de Maeztu has written of the aggressive assertion of personality — innecesaria afirmación de las personas—in Spain. 

 

(33) Lo que no lleva Cristo lo lleva el fisco—“ What the Church leaves, the Treasury receives,” says an old proverb.

 

(34) An author in Perez Galdos’ Fortunata y Jacinta says that the Spaniards, that picara raza, are unaware of the value of time and of the value of silence. “ You cannot make them understand that to take possession of other people’s silence is like stealing a coin.” “ It is a lack of civilization.” By such un-Spanish criticisms Senor Perez Galdos betrays the fact that he was not born in Spain.

 

(35) The historian, Mariana, displayed more patriotism than accuracy when he wrote that Spain “ is not like Africa, which is burnt by the violence of the sun nor is it assailed, as is France, by winds and frosts and humidity of air and earth.”

 

(36) So Fr. Alonso de Espina wrote that, were an Inquisition established, “ serian innumerables los entregados al fuego, los cuales si no fuesen aqui . . . cruelmente castigados . . . habran de ser quemados en el fuego eterno.” La Fortaleza de la Fe. 1459. 

 

(37) “This spectacle,” says an admiring Englishman in 1760, “is certainly one of the finest in the world, whether it is considered merely as a coup-d’ceil or as an exertion of the bravery and infinite agility of the performer.”

 

(38) Yet certainly no Englishman should attend a bull-fight while the modern custom prevails of leading out a cruelly gored horse, sewing it up, and bringing it in again for fresh sufferings. This is done to save the contractors of the plaza a few shillings and is a disgrace to Spain. Those who have not seen a bull-fight and can scarcely believe that so sordid and outrageous a practice is possible may, if they have the courage, read all the details in Sefñor Blasco Ibáñez’ novel Sangre y Arena (1908).

 

(39) The Inquisition was a tyranny universally feared, though in principle supported by the people. In Pepys we read of “ the English and Dutch who have been sent for to work (in the manufacture of certain stuffs) being taken with a Psalm-book or Testament and so clapped up and the house pulled down ; and the greatest Lord in Spayne dare not say a word against it if the word Inquisition be mentioned.” Cf. the groundless terror of the old woman in Quevedo’s El Buscadon, or the story of the man who, when asked for a few pears by an Inquisitor, pulled up and presented him with the whole tree.

 

(40)  Attacks on and ridicule of priests in Spain are not exclusively modern ; the following verse of Juan Euiz (14th century) is but one of countless instances throughout Spanish literature :

“ Como quier que los frayles et clerigos disen que aman a Dios servir

Si barruntan que el rico esta para morir

Quando oyen sus dineros que comienzan a retenir

Qual de ellos lo levara comienzan luego a rennir.”

But recently the number of those believing in religion has diminished, and the anti-Clericals have been driven by certain abuses of the Church to a more or less crude parade of atheism.  It is felt that the Church has crushed life rather than sought its fuller, nobler expression. Thus a writer, E. L. André (“Etica Española,” 1910), says : “We conceive life solely as a preparation for death,” and speaks of the slight espiritu territorial possessed by Spaniards. Cf. Berceo, in the 13th century : “ Quanto aqui vivimos en ageno moramos”—our life on earth is a sojourn in a strange land.

 

(41) Honesty is a common attribute of Spaniards, but they have perhaps no very accurate regard for the value of truthfulness or honesty in words.

 

(42) La mujer y el fraile mal parecen en la calle. In the South, as at Seville, the percentage of women to be seen in the streets is noticeably small.

 

(43) “ El consejo de la mujer es poco,” said Sancho, “ y el que no lo toma es loco.” The women maintain their influence, but it is thus not properly their own, but rather that of the Church. 

 

(44) The phrase Seguir sin novedad is still used to imply that everything is going on well. But an ever-increasing number of politicians are now advocating “ new things “ with a somewhat crude violence. It is a reaction against the apathy that waited with crossed hands —

“Vuolsi cosl cola dove si puote

Cio che si vuole, e piu non dimandare.”

 

(45) Cf. the characteristic trait mentioned by Samuel Pepys : “They will cry out against their King, and Commanders, and Generals, none like them in the world, and yet will not hear a stranger say a word of them but will cut his throat.”

 

(46) It is true, however, that the mass of the Spanish nation has still to develop on really Spanish lines: hence its present weakness and its potential strength in the future, when a civilization of a truly national character shall have imposed itself upon the artificial civilization of culture imported from France, and religion imported from Rome.