A CASTLE IN THE AIR
I have sometimes thought that a symptom of the decay of true kinghood in modern times is the love of monarchs for solitude. In the early days when monarchy was a real power to answer a real want, the king had no need to hide himself. He was the strongest, the most knowing, the most cunning. He moved among men their acknowledged chief. He guided and controlled them. He never lost his dignity by daily use. He could steal a horse like Diomede, he could mend his own breeches like Dagobert, and never tarnish the lustre of the crown by it. But in later times the throne has become an anachronism. The wearer of a crown has done nothing to gain it but give himself the trouble to be born. He has no claim to the reverence or respect of men. Yet he insists upon it, and receives some show of it. His life is mainly passed in keeping up this battle for a lost dignity and worship. He is given up to shams and ceremonies.
To a life like this there is something embarrassing in the movement and activity of a great city. The king cannot join in it without a loss of prestige. Being outside of it, he is vexed and humiliated by it. The empty forms become nauseous in the midst of this honest and wholesome reality of out-of-doors.
Hence the necessity of these quiet retreats in the forests, in the water-guarded islands, in the cloud-girdled mountains. Here the world is not seen or heard. Here the king may live with such approach to nature as his false and deformed education will allow. He is surrounded by nothing but the world of servants and courtiers, and it requires little effort of the imagination to consider himself chief and lord.
It was this spirit which in the decaying ripeness of the Bourbon dynasty drove the Louis from Paris to Versailles and from Versailles to Marly. Millions were wasted to build the vast monument of royal fatuity, and when it was done the Grand Monarque found it necessary to fly from time to time to the sham solitude and mock retirement he had built an hour away.
When Philip V. came down from France to his splendid exile on the throne of Spain, he soon wearied of the interminable ceremonies of the Cas-tilian court, and finding one day, while hunting, a pleasant farm on the territory of the Segovian monks, flourishing in a wrinkle of the Guadarrama Mountains, he bought it, and reared the Palace of La Granja. It is only kings who can build their castles in the air of palpable stones and mortar. This lordly pleasure-house stands four thousand feet above the sea level. On this commanding height, in this savage Alpine loneliness, in the midst of a scenery once wildly beautiful, but now shorn and shaven into a smug likeness of a French garden, Philip passed all the later years of his gloomy and inglorious life.
It has been ever since a most tempting summer-house to all the Bourbons. When the sun is calcining the plains of Castile, and the streets of Madrid are white with the hot light of midsummer, this palace in the clouds is as cool and shadowy as spring twilights. And besides, as all public business is transacted in Madrid, and La Granja is a day's journey away, it is too much trouble to send a courier every day for the royal signature, - or, rather, rubric, for royalty in Spain is above handwriting, and gives its majestic approval with a flourish of the pen, - so that everything waits a week or so, and much business goes finally undone; and this is the highest triumph of Spanish industry and skill.
We had some formal business with the court of the regent, and were not sorry to learn that his highness would not return to the capital for some weeks, and that consequently, following the precedent of a certain prophet, we must go to the mountain.
We found at the Estacion del Norte the state railway carriage of her late majesty, - a brilliant creation of yellow satin and profuse gilding, a bovidoir on wheels, - not too full of a distinguished company. Some of the leading men of New Spain, one or two ministers, were there, and we passed a pleasant two hours on the road in that most seductive of all human occupations, - talking politics.
It is remarkable that whenever a nation is remodelling its internal structure, the subject most generally discussed is the constitutional system of the United States. The republicans usually adopt it solid. The monarchists study it with a jealous interest. I fell into conversation with Senor - - - , one of the best minds in Spain, an enlightened though conservative statesman. He said: "It is hard for Europe to adopt a settled belief about you. America is a land of wonders, of contradictions. One party calls your system freedom, another anarchy. In all legislative assemblies of Europe, republicans and absolutists alike draw arguments from America. But what cannot be denied are the effects, the results. These are evident, something vast and grandiose, a life and movement to which the Old World is stranger." He afterwards referred with great interest to the imaginary imperialist movement in America, and raised his eyebrows in polite incredulity when I assured him there was as much danger of Spain becoming Mohammedan as of America becoming imperialist.
We stopped at the little station of Villalba, in the midst of the wide brown table-land that stretches from Madrid to the Escorial. At Villalba we found the inevitable swarm of beggars, who always know by the sure instinct of wretchedness where a harvest of cuartos is to be achieved. I have often passed Villalba and have seen nothing but the station-master and the water-vender. But to-day, because there were a half dozen excellencies on the train, the entire mendicant force of the district was on parade. They could not have known these gentlemen were coming; they must have scented pennies in the air.