VI. THE SPANISH CHARACTER

What sort of people were they, these Spaniards of the eighteenth century? By all reports their morals were good, compared with their peers in England or France. Their intense religion, their courage and sense of honor, their family coherence and discipline provided strong correctives to their sexual sensitivity and their pugnacious pride, even while sanctioning a passionate chauvinism of race and faith. Sexual selection promoted courage, for Spanish women, desiring protection, gave their most intoxicating smiles to those men who dared the bulls in the arena or the streets, or who quickly resented and avenged an insult, or who returned with glory from the wars.

Sexual morality had softened with the influx of French ideas and ways. Girls were closely guarded, and parental consent (after 1766) was a legal requisite for marriage; but after marriage the women in the larger cities indulged in flirtations. The cortejoorcicisbeo —courtier or attendant cavalier—became a necessary appendage to a woman of fashion, and adultery increased.73 One small group, the majos and majas, constituted a unique aspect of Spanish life. The majos were men of the lower class who dressed like dandies, wore long capes, long hair, and broad-rimmed hats, smoked big cigars, were always ready for a fight, and lived a Bohemian life financed as often as possible by their majas— their mistresses. Their sexual unions paid no attention to law; often themaja had a husband who supported her while she supported her majo. Half the world knows the maja, garbed or not, from Goya’s brush.

Social morality was relatively high. Political and commercial corruption existed, but not on the scale known in France or England; a French traveler reported that “Spanish probity is proverbial, and it shines conspicuously in commercial relations.”74 The word of a Spanish gentleman was moral tender from Lisbon to St. Petersburg. Friendship in Spain was often more lasting than love. Charity was plentiful. In Madrid alone religious institutions daily distributed thirty thousand bowls of nourishing soup to the poor.75 Many new hospitals and almshouses were established, many old ones were enlarged or improved. Almost all Spaniards were generous and humane, except to heretics and bulls.

Bullfights rivaled religion, sex, honor, and the family as objects of Spanish devotion. Like the gladiatorial games of ancient Rome, they were defended on two grounds: courage had to be developed in men, and bulls had to die before being eaten. Charles III forbade these contests, but they were resumed soon after his death. Skillful and riskful toreadors were the idols of all classes. Each had his following; the Duchess of Alba favored Costillares, the Duchess of Osuna favored Romero, and these factions divided Madrid as Gluck and Piccini divided Paris. Men and women wagered their earnings on the fate of the bulls, and on almost everything else. Gambling was illegal but universal; even private homes held gambling soirees, and the hostesses pocketed the fees.

Genteel male dress gradually abandoned the somber black garb and stiff collar of an earlier generation for the French habit of colored coat, long vest of satin or silk, knee breeches, silk stockings, buckled shoes, all crowned with a wig and a three-cornered hat. Usually the Spanish woman made a sacred mystery of her charms by swathing them in lace bodices and long-sometimes hoop—skirts, and using mantilla veils to hide eyes in whose dark depths some Spaniard would gladly sink his soul. But whereas in the seventeenth century a lady rarely allowed her feet to be seen by a man, now her skirts were shortened to a few inches above the floor, and the formerly heelless slippers were displaced by sharp-pointed high-heeled shoes. Preachers warned that such indecent exposure of female feet added dangerous fuel to the already combustible male. The women smiled, adorned their shoes, flashed their skirts, and waved their fans, even on winter days. Isabella Farnese had an armory of 1,626 fans, some of them painted by artists of national renown.

Social life was restrained in everything but the dance. The evening assemblies avoided serious discussion, preferring games, the dance, and gallantry. Dancing was a major passion in Spain, and sprouted varieties that became famous in Europe. The fandango was danced to a triple measure with castanets; the seguidilla was performed by two or four couples, with castanets and usually with song; its derivative, the bolero, took form toward 1780, and soon acquired a mad popularity. In the contradanza a line of men faced a line of women in alternating approach and retreat, as if symbolizing the tactics of the eternal war between woman and man; or four couples formed and enclosed a square in the stately contradanza cuadrada —the quadrille. Masquerade balls sometimes drew 3,500 eager dancers, and in Carnival time they danced till dawn.

These dances made motion a living poetry and a sexual stimulus. “It was said that a Spanish woman dancing the seguidilla was so seductive that even a pope and the whole College of Cardinals would be swept off their dignity.”76 Casanova himself found something to learn in Spain:

About midnight the wildest and maddest of dances began.... It was the fandango, which I fondly supposed I had often seen, but which [here] was far beyond my wildest imaginings.... In Italy and France the dancers are careful not to make the gestures which render this the most voluptuous of dances. Each couple, man and woman, make only three steps, then, keeping time to the music with their castanets, they throw themselves into a variety of lascivious attitudes; the whole of love from its birth to its end, from its first sigh to its last ecstasy, is set forth. In my excitement I cried aloud.77

He marveled that the Inquisition allowed so provocative a dance; he was told that it was “absolutely forbidden, and no one would dare to dance it if the Conde de Aranda had not given permission.”

Some of the most popular forms of Spanish music were associated with the dance; so the cante flamenco, or gypsy (“Flemish”) singing, used a plaintive and sentimental tone with which all gypsy singers accompanied the seguidilla gitana. Perhaps these mournful melodies echoed old Moorish airs, or reflected the somber quality of Spanish religion and art, or the irritating inaccessibility of the female form, or the disillusionment following realization. A more joyous strain came in with Italian opera (1703) and Farinelli’s arias. The old castrato, after trilling through two reigns, lost favor under Charles III, who dethroned him with a line: “Capons are good only to eat.”78 The Italian influence continued with Scarlatti, and triumphed again with Boccherini, who arrived in 1768, dominated the music of the court under Charles III and Charles IV, and remained in Spain till his death (1805).

By a reverse movement Vicente Martín y Solar, after making a name in Spain, successfully produced Italian opera in Florence, Vienna, and St. Petersburg. Antonio Soler’s harpsichord sonatas rivaled Scarlatti’s; and Don Luis Misón developed the tonada, or vocal solo, into the tonadillo as an intermezzo of song between the acts of a play. In 1799 a royal order ended the reign of Italian music in Spain by forbidding the performance of any piece not written in Castilian language and presented by Spanish artists.79

We cannot sum up the Spanish character in one homogeneous mold. The Spanish soul varies with the scenery from state to state, and the afrancesados, or Frenchified Spaniards, who gathered in Madrid, were quite another type than those natives who had been mortised and tenoned in Spanish ways. But if we set aside exotic minorities, we may recognize in the Spanish people a character indigenous and unique. The Spaniard was proud, but with a silent force that took little from chauvinism or nationality; it was a pride of individuality, a resolute sense of solitary struggle against earthly injury, personal insult, or eternal damnation. To such a spirit the external world could seem of secondary moment, not worth bothering about or toiling for; nothing mattered but the fate of the soul in the conflict with man and in the search for God. How trivial, then, were the problems of politics, the race for money, the exaltation of fame or place! Even the triumphs of war had no glory unless they were victories over the enemies of the faith. Rooted in that faith, the Spaniard could face life with a stoic tranquillity, a fatalism that waited quietly for eventual Paradise.

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