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and sitting after dinner in the gloomy hall of that old castle, many a tale was told, and many a legend and tradition of the past conjured up to satisfy the curiosity of the present.
Most of these tales were about the Moors whó built the castle, and the treasures they had buried beneath it. Then the priest told the story of a lawyer who sold himself to the devil for a pot of money, and was burnt by the Holy Inquisition therefor. In his confession, he told how he had learned from a Jew the secret of raising the devil; how he went to the castle at midnight with a book which the Jew gave him, and, to make the charm sure, carried with him a loadstone, six nails from the coffin of a child of three years, six tapers of rosewax, made by a child of four years, the skin and blood of a young kid, an iron fork, with which the kid had been killed, a few hazel-rods, a flask of high-proof brandy, and some
lignum-vitæ charcoal to make a fire. When he read in the book, the devil appeared in the shape of a man dressed in flesh-colored clothes, with long nails, and large fiery eyes, and he signed an agreement with him written in blood, promising never to go to mass, and to give him his soul at the end of eight years; in return for this, he was to have a million of dollars in good money, which the devil was to bring to him the next night; but when the next night came, and the lawyer had conjured from his book, instead of the devil, there appeared — who do you think?— the alcalde with half the village at his heels, and the poor lawyer was handed over to the Inquisition, and burnt for dealing in the black art.
I intended to repeat here some of the many tales that were told; but, upon reflection, they seem too frivolous, and must therefore give place to a more serious theme.
THE DEVOTIONAL POETRY OF SPAIN.
n's dove, when highest he flies, Flies with thy heavenly wings.
THERE is hardly a chapter in literary history more strongly marked with the peculiarities of national character than that which contains the moral and devotional poetry of Spain. It would naturally be expected that in this department of literature all the fervency and depth of national feeling would be exhibited. But still, as the spirit of morality and devotion is the same, wherever it exists, – as the enthusiasm of virtue and religion is everywhere essentially the same feeling, though modified in its degree and in its action by a variety of physical causes and local circumstances, — and as the subject of the didactic verse and the spiritual canticle cannot be materially changed by the change of nation and climate, it might at the first glance seem quite as natural to expect that the moral and devotional poetry of Christian countries would never be very strongly marked with national peculiarities. In other words, we should expect it to correspond to the warmth or coldness of national feeling, for it is the external
and visible expression of this feeling; but not to the distinction of national character, because, its nature and object being everywhere the
same, these distinctions become swallowed up in one universal Christian character.
In moral poetry this is doubtless true. The great principles of Christian morality being eternal and invariable, the verse which embodies and represents them must, from this very circumstance, be the same in its spirit through all Christian lands. The same, however, is not necessarily true of devotional or religious poetry. There, the language of poetry is something more than the visible image of a devotional spirit. It is also an expression of religious faith ; shadowing forth, with greater or less distinctness, its various creeds and doctrines. As these are different in different nations, the spirit that breathes in religious song, and the letter that gives utterance to the doctrine of faith, will not be universally the same. Thus, Catholic nations sing the praises of the Virgin Mary in language in which nations of
folded in the cloud of incense that rises before the shrines of the Virgin Mother, and the glorious company of the saints and martyrs. His soul is not wholly swallowed up in the contemplation of the sublime attributes of the Eternal Mind; but, with its lamp trimmed and burning, it goeth out to meet the bridegroom, as if he were coming in a bodily pres
the Protestant faith do not unite ; and among Protestants themselves, the difference of interpretations, and the consequent belief or disbelief of certain doctrines, give a various spirit and expression to religious poetry. And yet, in all, the devotional feeling, the heavenward volition, is the same.
As far, then, as peculiarities of religious faith exercise an influence upon intellectual habits, and thus become a part of national character, so far will the devotional or religious poetry of a country exhibit the characteristic peculiarities resulting from this influence of faith, and its assimilation with the national mind. Now Spain is by preëminence the Catholic land of Christendom. Most of her historic recollections are more or less intimately associated with the triumphs of the Christian faith; and many of her warriors -- of her best and bravest were martyrs in the holy cause, perishing in that war of centuries which was carried on within her own territories between the crescent of Mahomet and the cross of Christ. Indeed, the whole tissue of her history is interwoven with miraculous traditions. The intervention of her patron saint has saved her honor in more than one dangerous pass; and the warshout of Santiago, y cierra España !” has worked like a charm upon the wavering spirit of the soldier. A reliance on the guardian ministry of the saints pervades the whole people, and devotional offerings for signal preservation in times of danger and distress cover the consecrated walls of churches. An enthusiasm of religious feeling, and of external ritual observances, prevails throughout the land. But more particularly is the name of the Virgin honored and adored. Ave Maria is the salutation of peace at the friendly threshold, and the Godspeed to the wayfarer. It is the evening orison, when the toils of day are done ; and at midnight it echoes along the solitary streets in the voice of the watchman's
cry. These and similar peculiarities of religious faith are breathing and moving through a large portion of the devotional poetry of Spain. It is not only instinct with religious feeling, but incorporated with “the substance of things not seen.” Not only are the poet's lips touched with a coal from the altar, but his spirit is
The history of the devotional poetry of Spain commences with the legendary lore of Maestro Gonzalo de Berceo, a secular priest, whose life was passed in the cloisters of a Benedictine convent, and amid the shadows of the thirteenth century. The name of Berceo stands foremost on the catalogue of Spanish poets, for the author of the poem of the Cid is unknown. The old patriarch of Spanish poetry has left a monument of his existence in upwards of thirteen thousand alexandrines celebrating the lives and miracles of saints and the Virgin, as he found them written in the Latin chronicles and dusty legends of his monastery. In embodying these in rude verse in roman paladino, or the old Spanish romance tongue, intelligible to the common people, Fray Gonzalo seems to have passed his life. His writings are just such as we should expect from the pen of a monk of the thirteenth century. They are more ghostly than poetical ; and throughout, unction holds the place of inspiration. Accordingly, they illustrate very fully the preceding remarks; and the more so, inasmuch as they are written with the most ample and childish credulity, and the utmost singleness of faith touching the events and miracles described.
The following extract is taken from one of Berceo's poems, entitled “ Vida de San Milan.” It is a description of the miraculous appearance of Santiago and San Millan, mounted on snow-white steeds, and fighting for the cause of Christendom, at the battle of Simancas in the Campo de Toro.
“ And while the Christian people stood in this uncertainty, Upward to heaven they turned their eyes, and fixed their
thoughts on high; And there two figures they beheld, all beautiful and
bright, Even than the pure new-fallen snow their garments were
Turned back against them in their flight and wounded
them full sore, And every blow they dealt the foe was paid in drops of
“ Now he that bore the crosier, and the papal crown had
on, Was the glorified Apostle, the brother of Saint John ; And he that held the crucifix, and wore the monkish
hood, Was the holy San Millan of Cogolla’s neighborhood.”
Berceo's longest poem is entitled Miraclos de Nuestra Señora, “ Miracles of Our Lady.” It consists of nearly four thousand lines, and contains the description of twenty-five miracles. It is a complete homily on the homage and devotion due to the glorious Virgin, Madre de Jhu Xto, Mother of Jesus Christ ; but it is written in a low and vulgar style, strikingly at variance with the elevated character of the subject. Thus, in the twentieth miracle, we have the account of a monk who became intoxicated in a wine cellar. Having lain on the floor till the vesper-bell aroused him, he staggered off towards the church in most melancholy plight. The Evil One besets him on the way, assuming the various shapes of a bull, a dog, and a lion ; but from all these perils he is miraculously saved by the timely intervention of the Virgin, who finding him still too much intoxicated to make his way to bed, kindly takes him by the hand, leads him to his pallet, covers him with a blanket and a counterpane, smooths his pillow, and, after making the sign of the cross over him, tells him to rest quietly, for sleep will do him good.
To a certain class of minds there may be something interesting and even affecting in descriptions which represent the spirit of a departed saint as thus assuming a corporeal shape, in order to assist and console human nature even in its baser infirmities ; but it ought also to be considered how much such descriptions tend to strip religion of its peculiar sanctity, to bring it down from its heavenly abode, not merely to dwell among men, but, like an imprisoned culprit, to be chained to the derelict of principle, manacled with the base desire and earthly passion, and forced to do the menial offices of a slave. In descriptions of this kind, as in the representations of
our Saviour and of sainted spirits in human itself a capacity for hearing the voice and shape, execution must of necessity fall far receiving the moral impulse. The cause exists short of the conception. The handiwork can eternally and universally ; but the effect is not equal the glorious archetype, which is visi produced only when and where the ble only to the mental eye. Painting and has room to act, and just in proportion as it sculpture are not adequate to the task of em has room to act. Hence the various moral imbodying in a permanent shape the glorious pressions, and the several degrees of the same visions, the radiant forms, the glimpses of moral impression, which an object may produce heaven, which fill the imagination when puri in different minds. These impressions will fied and exalted by devotion. The hand of vary in kind and in degree according to the man unconsciously inscribes upon all his works acuteness and the cultivation of the internal the sentence of imperfection, which the finger moral sense. And thus the representations of the invisible hand wrote upon the wall of spoken of above might exercise a very favorthe Assyrian monarch. From this it would able influence upon an enlightened and wellseem to be not only a natural but a necessary regulated mind, and at the same time a very conclusion, that all the descriptions of poetry unfavorable influence upon an unenlightened which borrow anything, either directly or indi and superstitious one. And the reason is obrectly, from these bodily and imperfect repre vious. An enlightened mind beholds all things sentations, must partake of their imperfection, in their just proportions, and receives from and assume a more earthly and material char them the true impressions they are calculated acter than these which come glowing and to convey. It is not hoodwinked, it is not burning from the more spiritualized percep shut up in a gloomy prison, till it thinks the tions of the internal sense.
walls of its own dungeon the limits of the uniIt is very far from my intention to utter any verse, and the reach of its own chain the outer sweeping denunciation against the divine arts verge of all intelligence; but it walks abroad; of painting and sculpture, as employed in the the sunshine and the air pour in to enlighten exhibition of Scriptural scenes and personages. and expand it; the various works of nature are These I esteem meet ornaments for the house its ministering angels; the glad recipient of of God; though, as I have already said, their light and wisdom, it develops new powers and execution cannot equal the high conceptions acquires increased capacities, and thus, renof an ardent imagination, yet, whenever the dering itself less subject to error, assumes a hand of a master is visible, -- when the marble nearer similitude to the Eternal Mind. But almost moves before you, and the painting not so the dark and superstitious mind. It starts into life from the canvas, the effect is filled with its own antique and mouldy upon an enlightened mind will generally, if furniture, — the moth-eaten tome, the gloomy not universally, be to quicken its sensibilities tapestry, the dusty curtain. The straggling and excite to more ardent devotion, by carry sunbeam from without streams through the ing the thoughts beyond the representations of stained window, and as it enters assumes the bodily suffering, to the contemplation of the colors of the painted glass; while the halfintenser mental agony, — the moral sublimity extinguished fire within now smouldering in exhibited by the martyr.
The impressions its ashes, and now shooting forth a quivering produced, however, will not be the same in all flame, casts fantastic shadows through the minds; they will necessarily vary according to chambers of the soul. Within the spirit sits, the prevailing temper and complexion of the lost in its own abstractions. The voice of namind which receives them. As there is no ture from without is hardly audible ; her beausound where there is no ear to receive the im ties are unseen, or seen only in shadowy forms, pulses and vibrations of the air, so is there no through a colored medium, and with a strained moral impression, - no voice of instruction and distorted vision. The invigorating air does from all the works of nature, and all the imita not enter that mysterious chamber; it visits tions of art, - unless there be within the soul not that lonely inmate, who, breathing only a
close, exhausted atmosphere, exhibits in the languid frame and feverish pulse the marks of lingering, incurable disease. The picture is not too strongly sketched; such is the contrast between the free and the superstitious mind. Upon the latter, which has little power over its ideas, — to generalize them, to place them in their proper light and position, to reason upon, to discriminate, to judge them in detail, and thus to arrive at just conclusions; but, on the contrary, receives every crude and inadequate impression as it first presents itself, and treasures it up as an ultimate fact, mind, representations of Scripture-scenes, like those mentioned above, exercise an unfavorable influence. Such a mind cannot rightly estimate, it cannot feel, the work of a master ; and a miserable painting, or a still more miserable caricature carved in wood, will serve
only the more to drag the spirit down to earth. Thus, in the unenlightened mind, these representations have a tendency to sensualize and desecrate the character of holy things. Being brought constantly before the eye, and represented in a real and palpable form to the external senses, they lose, by being made too familiar, that peculiar sanctity with which the mind naturally invests the unearthly and invisible.
It is curious to observe the influence of the circumstances just referred to upon the devotional poetry of Spain. Sometimes it exhibits itself directly and fully, sometimes indirectly and incidentally, but always with sufficient clearness to indicate its origin. Sometimes it destroys the beauty of a poem by a miserable conceit; at other times it gives it the character of a beautiful allegory.2
upon such a