- Journey from Barcelona to Madrid. -- Madrid. -- Conde. -- government of Spain. -- the Inquisition. -- public institutions. -- education. -- School for deaf-mutes. -- bull-fights.
To Elisha Ticknor.
Madrid, May 23, 1818.My last was from Barcelona, dear father and mother, just fourteen days ago. As you may well suppose, in a country such as this, where all comfortable or decent means of travelling fail, I took the shortest route to reach this place; but, though the distance is but four hundred miles, I arrived only this morning, after a journey of thirteen days. I have no desire to conceal from you the difficulties of this expedition. All I have suffered in all my absence put together is nothing, and less than nothing, compared to it. In the first place, imagine roads so abominable that the utmost diligence, from four o'clock in the morning until seven at night, would not bring us forward more than twenty-one or twenty-two miles! Imagine a country so deserted and desolate, and with so little travelling and communication, as to have no taverns; for I do not call the miserable hovels where we stopped by that name, because it is not even expected of them to furnish anything but a place to cover you from the weather. And, in the last place, imagine a country so destitute of the means of subsistence, that, even by seeking every opportunity to purchase provisions, you cannot keep so provided that you will not sometimes want a meal. Since I left Barcelona I have not been in a single inn where the lower story was not a stable, and of course the upper one as full of fleas as if it were under an Egyptian curse; twice I have dined in the very place with the mules; and it is but twice that I have slept on a bedstead, and the rest of the time on their stone floors, (which are not so even or so comfortable as our sidewalks,) and there only with straw and my blanket. Not once have I taken off my clothes except to change them, and here I find myself in quarters little more decent . . . . . And yet, will you believe me when I add to all this that I never made a gayer journey  in my life? It is, notwithstanding, very true. My companions were excellent; and, with that genuine, unpretending courtesy and hearty, dignified kindness for which their nation has always been famous, did everything they could to make me feel as few of the inconveniences of the journey as they could, even at the expense of taking them upon themselves. The oldest was a painter1 of much reputation in Rome, where he has lived seventeen years, and is now called to Madrid to become Director of the Academy of Arts,—a man of much general knowledge and some learning, with great simplicity of character and goodness of heart. The second was a young man, attached to the general staff of the army, and the third an officer in the king's body-guards, —both of them of good families, good manners, and good dispositions. The painter was a little disposed to complain at first, because he had forgotten how bad it was, but he soon got over it; the two officers were used to it; and I had screwed myself up to the sticking-place before I set off, so that I went patiently through the whole. I brought some books with me, and among them was Don Quixote. This I read aloud to them; and I assure you it was a pleasure to me, such as I have seldom enjoyed, to witness the effect this extraordinary book produces on the people from whose very blood and character it is drawn. My painter in particular was alternately holding his sides with laughter at Sancho and his master, and weeping at the touching stories with which it is interspersed. All of them used to beg me to read it to them every time we got into our cart,—like children for toys or sugar-plums,—while I willingly yielded, as every reading was to me a lesson. In this way my journey became far from useless or unpleasant, and I arrived here perhaps as little disposed to complain as any stranger ever was who came in the same way. In Madrid things promise well. I have letters to nearly every one of the foreign ministers, to the Pope's Nuncio from Consalvi, the Pope's Prime Minister, to the Secretaries of the three Royal Academies, etc.; and Mr. Erving, our Minister, has received me with very remarkable kindness. A week hence you shall know more. . . . .
To Elisha Ticknor.
Madrid, June 3, 1818.On my arrival here, on the 23d ultimo, my dear father and mother, I immediately wrote to tell you of my safety . . . . . And now I can tell you that I am as comfortably settled as I have been anywhere  in Europe, with as good prospects of accomplishing the objects for which I came. But you like to have details, and I like to give them to you. In the first place, I am settled in lodgings procured for me by Mr. Erving, with people he knows to be honest, and whom I find uncommonly neat; which, you will observe, are the two rarest virtues in Spain. In the next place, I rise early,—at half past 5,—and sit down to my books, taking a cup of Spanish chocolate, so thick it may almost be eaten with a fork. I work from this time until eleven o'clock. At this hour my Spanish instructor comes, and remains with me till one. He is a very good master,—as good as there is in Madrid, I suppose,—punctual, patient, and accurate. About half an hour after he is gone—during which I make my second breakfast, according to the fashions of the Continent–comes my other instructor; for, as I have nothing to do here but to learn Spanish, I think it best to multiply the means . . . .This, however, is an entirely different man from the other. His name is Joseph Antonio Conde; and among all the men of letters I have met in Spain,—and I believe I have seen the most considerable in my department,—he has the most learning by far, and the most taste and talent. He was formerly librarian to the king; when the French came he fled; but, on assurances of personal safety, returned from Toulouse, where he had taken refuge, and was soon afterwards placed at the head of that department of the Ministry of the Interior which was devoted to public instruction. On the restoration of the Bourbons he was of course displaced; but still his merits and his honesty were so notorious that he was excepted (and I believe alone) from the sweeping prosecution of all who had served under Joseph, and permitted to live unmolested in Madrid, where he is much respected. He is about fifty years old, extremely ignorant of the world, timid in disposition, awkward in manners, and of childlike simplicity and openness in his feelings. I had letters to him from Paris, and—not because he is poor, for he is not, but because he is solitary from the death of his wife, and unoccupied from the loss of his employments—he comes and reads Spanish poetry with me two or three hours every day. The pleasure he takes in it is evidently great; for he has no less enthusiasm than learning, and nothing gives him so much delight as to see that I share his feelings for his favorite authors, which I truly do; while, on the other hand, the information I get from him is such as I could get, probably, from nobody else, and certainly in no other way.  When I dine at home, it is at five o'clock; when I dine abroad, it is at four, for that is the hour at Madrid; I prefer the latest possible, because it makes my studying day longer. After dinner I walk until half past 8 or nine. The houses of the foreign ministers are open to me: the Nuncio, Prince Giustiniani, the French Ambassador Prince Montmorency de Laval, and the English, who is Sir Henry Wellesley, have shown me much kindness and civility. I therefore dine abroad nearly all the time; but as soon as I can speak Spanish tolerably I shall seek Spanish society, which is almost completely distinct from the diplomatic, and is to be found only in late evening parties, called tertulias, which all the principal people have every night, and to which Mr. Erving can introduce me better than anybody else. . . . . Farewell.
Madrid, July 25, 1818.. . . . Spain and the Spanish people amuse me more than anything I have met in Europe. There is more national character here, more originality and poetry in the popular manners and feelings, more force without barbarism, and civilization without corruption, than I have found anywhere else. Would you believe it?—I speak not at all of the highest class,—what seems mere fiction and romance in other countries is matter of observation here, and, in all that relates to manners, Cervantes and Le Sage are historians. For, when you have crossed the Pyrenees, you have not only passed from one country and climate to another, but you have gone back a couple of centuries in your chronology, and find the people still in that kind of poetical existence which we have not only long since lost, but which we have long since ceased to credit on the reports of our ancestors. The pastoral life—I will not say such as it is in Theocritus and Virgil, and still less such as it is in Gesner or Galatea, but a pastoral life which certainly has its poetical side—is still found everywhere in the country. I never come home in the evening that I do not pass half a dozen groups of the lower class of the people dancing to their pipes and castanets some of their beautifully original national dances; for you must observe that, if the Italians are the most musical people in the world, the Spaniards are the most remarkable for a natural and inherent propensity to dance, and have the most  graceful movements and manners. Sometimes, especially if it be late, I find a lover with his guitar before the house of his mistress, singing his passion and his suffering. Only last night I was coming home from Sir Henry Wellesley's, where I had stayed very late at a little ball Lady Wellesley gave in her garden,—a kind of fete champetre,—and, as I came into the street where I live, I saw a man standing in the middle, and singing with a beautifully clear and sweet voice to his guitar, which he played with great skill. I stopped to hear him, and recognized a little popular song, called a seguidilla, of eight lines, which I have in a large collection of these pieces, taken from the very lips of the populace that composed them. Each [song] consists of one idea, generally a comparison, always in the same metre, and in eight lines, and often singularly beautiful and original. . . . .
To Elisha Ticknor.
Madrid, August 1, 1818.I am sure you will think of me more than you commonly do today, my dear father and mother, for these anniversaries seem to be bounds and limits in my absence. This is the fourth birthday I have passed away from you; the next, if Heaven pleases to spare my life and health, will be again at home, to which I look forward every day with new earnestness and impatience. . . . . There is one person that I have mentioned to you so often, that you may desire that I should tell you with some minuteness who he is. I mean the Duke de Laval, French Ambassador here. Since I have been in Europe I have not been so intimate with any one as with him. He is a man of about fifty years old, with great gayety, openness, and impetuosity of character, and with great talents in conversation; so great, indeed, that Mad. de Stael, who was herself the most remarkable person perhaps in this respect that ever lived, used to delight to hear him talk. He has strong literary propensities and not a little literary knowledge, and especially with a genuine goodness of heart, which makes it necessary for him to make those about him happy merely that he may see them so. He is one of the old exiled nobility, who never gave up their fidelity, and in rank he is the first baron of the kingdom, with the title of Duke de Laval; besides that, in Germany he is, from services rendered by his ancestors, Prince of the Empire, and in Spain, from his own merits, Duke de San Fernando Luis, and grandee of the first class; in short, he is, from the antiquity and splendor of his family, one of the first, if not  the very first nobleman in Europe, and, from his personal talents and virtues and fidelity, one of the chief supporters of the French throne. Immediately on the return of the king he was appointed ambassador here; not only from the great importance of the post arising from the connection then to be formed anew between the two branches of the restored family, but from the great dignity of the appointment, as the chief embassy France sends, since it is from a Bourbon to a Bourbon, and from the great personal influence he has with the king and court. . . . . I dine with him two or three times every week, and see him more or less every day; for if by accident I do not meet him in the evening, I am sure that in the morning he will look into my quarters, telling me that he came to see whether I was sick; and still oftener he comes and sits with me to read or to talk, for he is the only Frenchman whose literary opinions and feelings coincide with my own. . . . . Now, therefore, my dear father and mother, I hope you know who my most intimate friend here is, for I should always like to have you feel acquainted with those I know; and as this [letter] is finished, all that remains for me is to send you my love for all my friends, whom I certainly love more than ever. . . . .