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make a few hasty observations upon each class, and illustrate my remarks by specimens of the ballads.
The historic ballads are those which recount the noble deeds of the early heroes of Spain : of Bernardo del Carpio, the Cid, Martin Pelaez, Garcia Perez de Vargas, Alonso de Aguilar, and many others whose names stand conspicuous in Spanish history. Indeed, these ballads may themselves be regarded in the light of historic documents ; they are portraits of longdeparted ages, and if at times their features are exaggerated and colored with too bold a contrast of light and shade, yet the free and spirited touches of a master's hand are recognized in all. They are instinct, too, with the spirit of Castilian pride, with the high and dauntless spirit of liberty that burned so fiercely of old in the heart of the brave hidalgo. Take, for example, the ballad of the Five Farthings. King Alfonso the Eighth, having exhausted his treasury in war, wishes to lay a tax of five farthings upon each of the Castilian hidalgos, in order to defray the expenses of a journey from Burgos to Cuenca. This proposition of the king was met with disdain by the noblemen who had been assembled on the occasion.
But the goodly gift of liberty
Cannot be bought and sold.'” The same gallant spirit breathes through all the historic ballads; but, perhaps, most fervently in those which relate to Bernardo del Carpio. How spirit-stirring are all the speeches which the ballad-writers have put into the mouth of this valiant hero ! - Ours is the blood of the Goth,” says he to King Alfonso; ** sweet to us is liberty, and bondage odious!” “ The king may give his castles to the Frank, but not his vassals; for kings themselves hold no dominion over the free will!” He and his followers would rather die freemen than live slaves! If these are the common watchwords of liberty at the present day, they were no less so among the high-souled Spaniards of the eighth century.
One of the finest of the historic ballads is that which describes Bernardo's march to Roncesvalles. He sallies forth “ with three thousand Leonese and more," to protect the glory and freedom of his native land. From all sides, the peasantry of the land flock to the hero's standard.
• The peasant leaves his plough afield,
The reaper leaves his hook, And from his hand the shepherd-boy
Lets fall the pastoral crook.
“The young set up a shout of joy,
The old forget their years, The feeble man grows stout of heart,
No more the craven fears.
“ All rush to Bernard's standard,
And on liberty they call ; They cannot brook to wear the yoke,
When threatened by the Gaul.
«« « Free were we born,' 'tis thus they cry,
* And willingly pay we The duty that we owe our king,
“ Don Nuño, Count of Lara,
In anger and in pride,
And thus in wrath replied :
66 Our noble ancestors,' quoth he,
Ne'er such a tribute paid; Nor shall the king receive of us
What they have once gainsaid.
66. The base-born soul who deems it just
May here with thee remain; But follow
ye cavaliers, Ye noblemen of Spain.'
“ Forth followed they the noble Count,
They marched to Glera's plain ;
Did only three remain.
By the divine decree.
56. But God forbid that we obey
The laws of foreign knaves,
And make our children slaves.
“ They tied the tribute to their spears,
They raised it in the air,
That his tax was ready there.
“Our hearts have not so craven grown,
So bloodless all our veins,
As to submit to chains.
may send and take by force,' said they, • This paltry sum of gold ;
· Has the audacious Frank, forsooth,
Subdued these seas and lands ? Shall he a bloodless victory have ?
No, not while we have hands.
« • He shall learn that the gallant Leonese
Can bravely fight and fall ;
They are Castilians all.
• • Was it for this the Roman power
Of old was made to yield Unto Numantia's valiant hosts,
On many a bloody field ?
6. Shall the bold lions that have bathed
Their paws in Libyan gore, Crouch basely to a feebler foe,
And dare the strife no more ?
“ • Let the false king sell town and tower,
But not his vassals free;
No royal power hath he !'” These short specimens will suffice to show the spirit of the old heroic ballads of Spain ; the Romances del Cid, and those that rehearse the gallant achievements of many other champions, brave and stalwart knights of old, I must leave unnoticed, and pass to another field of chivalry
works ; while others, on the contrary, aspire to the length and dignity of epic poems; -witness the ballads of the Conde de Irlos and the Marques de Mantua, each of which consists of nearly a thousand long and sonorous lines.
Among these ballads of the Twelve Peers there are many of great beauty ; others possess little merit, and are wanting in vigor and conciseness. From the structure of the versification, I should rank them among the oldest of the Spanish ballads. They are all monorhythmic, with full consonant rhymes.
To the romantic ballads belong also a great number which recount the deeds of less celebrated heroes; but among them all none is so curious as that of Virgil. Like the old French romance writers of the Middle Ages, the early Spanish poets introduce the Mantuan bard as a knight of chivalry. The ballad informs us that a certain king kept him imprisoned seven years, for what old Brantôme would call outrecuydance with a certain Doña Isabel. But being at mass on Sunday, the recollection of Virgil comes suddenly into his mind, when he ought to be attending to the priest; and, turning to his knights, he asks them what has become of Virgil. One of them replies, “ Your Highness has him imprisoned in your dungeons ;
to which the king makes answer with the greatest coolness, by telling them that the dinner is waiting, and that after they have dined they will pay Virgil a visit in his prison. Then up and spake the queen like a true heroine ; quoth she, “ I will not dine without him”; and straightway they all repaired to the prison, where they find the incarcerated knight engaged in the pleasant pastime of combing his hair and arranging his beard. He tells the king very coolly that on that very day he has been a prisoner seven years; to this the king replies, “ Hush, hush, Virgil ; it takes three more to make ten.” “Sire,” says Virgil, with the same philosophical composure, “ if your Highness so ordains, I
whole life here." “ As a reward for your patience, you shall dine with me today,” says the king
the king. “My coat is torn,” says Virgil; “I am not in trim to make a leg." But this difficulty is removed by the promise of a new suit from the king; and they go to
The next class of the ancient Spanish ballads is the Romantic, including those which relate to the Twelve Peers of Charlemagne and other imaginary heroes of the days of chivalry. There is an exaggeration in the prowess of these heroes of romance which is in accordance with the warmth of a Spanish imagination; and the ballads which celebrate their achievements still go from mouth to mouth among the peasantry of Spain, and are hawked about the streets by the blind ballad-monger.
Among the romantic ballads, those of the Twelve Peers stand preëminent; not so much for their poetic merit as for the fame of their heroes. In them are sung the valiant knights whose history is written more at large in the prose romances of chivalry, — Orlando, and Oliver, and Montesinos, and Durandarte, and the Marques de Mantua, and the other paladins, “ que en una mesa comian pan." These ballads are of different length and various degrees of merit. Of some a few lines only remain ; they are evidently fragments of larger
will pass my
dinner. Virgil delights both knights and damsels, but most of all Doña Isabel. The archbishop is called in ; they are married forthwith, and the ballad closes like a
scene in some old play: “He takes her by the hand, and leads her to the garden."
Such is this curious ballad.
I now turn to one of the most beautiful of these ancient Spanish poems; - it is the Romance del Conde Alarcos ; a ballad full of interest and of touching pathos. The story is briefly this. The Count Alarcos, after being secretly betrothed to the Infanta Solisa, forsakes her and weds another lady. Many years afterward, the princess, sitting alone, as she was wont, and bemoaning her forsaken lot, resolves to tell the cause of her secret sorrow to the king her father; and, after confessing her clandestine love for Count Alarcos, demands the death of the Countess, to heal her wounded honor. Her story awakens the wrath of the king; he acknowledges the justness of her demand, seeks an interview with the Count, and sets the case before him in so strong a light, that finally he wrings from him a promise to put his wife to death with his own hand. The Count returns homeward a grief-stricken man, weeping the sad destiny of his wife, and saying within himself, “ How shall I look upon her smile of joy, when she comes forth to meet me?” The Countess welcomes his return with affectionate tenderness; but he is heavy at heart and disconsolate. He sits down to supper with his children around him, but the food is untasted; he hides his face in his hands, and weeps. At length they retire to their chamber. In the language of Mr. Lockhart's translation,
“They came together to the bower, where they were used
to rest, None with them but the little babe that was upon the
breast: The Count had barred the chamber-doors, — they ne'er
were barred till then : • Unhappy lady,' he began,and I most lost of men !
• Be kind, Alarcos, to our babes, and pray for my repose; And now give me my boy once more, upon my breast
to hold, That he may drink one farewell drink before my breast
“Now speak not so, my noble lord, my husband, and my
life! Unhappy never can she be that is Alarcos' wife !' • Alas! unhappy lady, 't is but little that you know; For in that very word you've said is gathered all your
"Why would you waken the poor child ? you see he is
asleep; Prepare, dear wife, there is no time, the dawn begins
the scene is changed ; it is the bridal of Andalla ; the bull-fight of Ganzul. The sunshine of Andalusia glances upon the marble halls of Granada, and green are the banks of the Xenil and the Darro. A band of Moorish knights gayly arrayed in gambesons of crimson silk, with scarfs of blue and jewelled tahalíes, sweep like the wind through the square of Vivarambla. They ride to the Tournament of Reeds; the Moorish maiden leans from the balcony ; bright eyes glisten from many a lattice; and the victorious knight receives the prize of valor from the hand of her whose beauty is like the star-lit night. These are the Xarifas, the Celindas, and Lindaraxas, — the Andallas, Ganzules, and Abenzaydes of
The Count then strangles her with a scarf, and the ballad concludes with the fulfilment of the dying lady's prayer, in the death of the king and the Infanta within twenty days of her own.
Few, I think, will be disposed to question the beauty of this ancient ballad, though a refined and cultivated taste may revolt from the seemingly unnatural incident upon which it is founded. It must be recollected that this is a scene taken from a barbarous age, when the life of even the most cherished and beloved was held of little value in comparison with a chivalrous but false and exaggerated point of honor. It must be borne in mind also, that, notwithstanding the boasted liberty of the Castilian hidalgos, and their frequent rebellions against the crown, a deep reverence for the divine right of kings, and a consequent disposition to obey the mandates of the throne, at almost any sacrifice, has always been one of the prominent traits of the Spanish character. When taken in connection with these circumstances, the story of this old ballad ceases to be so grossly improbable as it seems at first sight; and, indeed, becomes an illustration of national character. In all probability, the story of the Conde Alarcos had some foundation in fact.1
The third class of the ancient Spanish ballads is the Moorish. Here we enter a new world, more gorgeous and more dazzling than that of Gothic chronicle and tradition. The stern spirits of Bernardo, the Cid, and Mudarra have passed away; the mail-clad forms of Guarinos, Orlando, and Durandarte are not here:
1 This exaggerated reverence for the person and prerogatives of the king has furnished the groundwork of two of the best dramas in the Spanish language : La
Then comes the sound of the silver clarion, and the roll of the Moorish atabal, down from the snowy pass
of the Sierra Nevada and across the gardens of the Vega. Alhama has fallen! woe is me, Alhama ! The Christian is at the gates of Granada ; the banner of the cross floats from the towers of the Alhambra! And these, too, are themes for the minstrel, themes sung alike by Moor and Spaniard.
Among the Moorish ballads are included not only those which were originally composed in Arabic, but all that relate to the manners, customs, and history of the Moors in Spain. In most of them the influence of an Oriental taste is clearly visible; their spirit is more refined and effeminate than that of the historic and romantic ballads, in which no trace of such an influence is perceptible. The spirit of the Cid is stern, unbending, steel-clad ; his hand grasps his sword Tizona ; his heel wounds the flank of his steed Babieca ;
“ • Friends! ye have, alas! to know
Of a most disastrous blow,
Woe is me, Alhama!
The ancient ballads are stamped with the character of their heroes. Abundant illustrations of this could be given, but it is not necessary.
Among the most spirited of the Moorish ballads are those which are interwoven in the History of the Civil Wars of Granada. The following, entitled “ A very mournful Ballad on the Siege and Conquest of Alhama,” is very beautiful; and such was the effect it produced upon the Moors that it was forbidden, on pain of death, to sing it within the walls of Granada. The translation, which is executed with great skill and fidelity, is from the pen of Lord Byron.
“Out then spake old Alfaqui,
With his beard so white to see : 'Good king, thou art justly served; Good king, this thou hast deserved.
Woe is me, Alhama!
“. By thee were slain, in evil hour,
The Abencerrage, Granada's flower;
Woe is me, Alhama!
“The Moorish king rides up and down,
Through Granada's royal town;
Woe is me, Alahama!
"And for this, O king! is sent
On thee a double chastisement;
Woe is me, Alhama!
“ And when the hollow drums of war
Woe is me, Alhama!
“ Then the Moors, by this aware
That bloody Mars recalled them there,
Woe is me, Alhama!
Such are the ancient ballads of Spain; poems which, like the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages, have outlived the names of their builders. They are the handiwork of wandering, homeless minstrels, who for their daily bread thus “built the lofty rhyme; "and whose names, like their dust and ashes, have long, long been wrapped in a shroud. “ These poets, says an anonymous writer, “have left behind them no trace to which the imagination can attach itself; they have died and made no sign. We pass from the infancy of Spanish poetry to the age of Charles, through a long vista of monuments without inscriptions, as the traveller approaches the noise and bustle
“Out then spake an aged Moor
In these words the king before: •Wherefore call on us, O king ? What may mean this gathering ?'
Woe is me Alhama!