SPANISH LIVING AND DYING
Nowhere is the sentiment of home stronger than in Spain. Strangers, whose ideas of the Spanish character have been gained from romance and comedy, are apt to note with some surprise the strength and prevalence of the domestic affections. But a moment's reflection shows us that nothing is more natural. It is the result of all their history. The old Celtic population had scarcely any religion but that of the family. The Goths brought in the pure Teutonic regard for woman and marriage. The Moors were distinguished by the patriarchal structure of their society. The Spaniards have thus learned the lesson of home in the school of history and tradition. The intense feeling of individuality, which so strongly marks the Spanish character, and which in the political world is so fatal an element of strife and obstruction, favors this peculiar domesticity. The Castilian is submissive to his king and his priest, haughty and inflexible with his equals. But his own house is a refuge from the contests of out of doors. The reflex of absolute authority is here observed, it is true. The Spanish father is absolute king and lord by his own hearthstone, but his sway is so mild and so readily acquiesced in that it is hardly felt. The evils of tyranny are rarely seen but by him who resists it, and the Spanish family seldom calls for the harsh exercise of parental authority.
This is the rule. I do not mean to say there are no exceptions. The pride and jealousy inherent in the race make family quarrels, when they do arise, the bitterest and the fiercest in the world. In every grade of life these vindictive feuds among kindred are seen from time to time. Twice at least the steps of the throne have been splashed with royal blood shed by a princely hand. Duels between noble cousins and stabbing affrays between peasant brothers alike attest the unbending sense of personal dignity that still infects this people.
A light word between husbands and wives sometimes goes unexplained, and the rift between them widens through life. I know some houses where the wife enters at one door and the husband at another; where if they meet on the stairs, they do not salute each other. Under the same roof they have lived for years and have not spoken. One word would heal all discord, and that word will never be spoken by either. They cannot be divorced, - the Church is inexorable. They will not incur the scandal of a public separation. So they pass lives of lonely isolation in adjoining apartments, both thinking rather better of each other and of themselves for this devilish persistence.
An infraction of parental discipline is never forgiven. I knew a general whose daughter fell in love with his adjutant, a clever and amiable young officer. He had positively no objection to the suitor, but was surprised that there should be any love-making in his house without his previous suggestion. He refused his consent, and the young people were married without it. The father and son-in-law went off on a campaign, fought, and were wounded in the same battle. The general was asked to recommend his son-in-law for promotion. "I have no son-in-law!" "I mean your daughter's husband." "I have no daughter." "I refer to Lieutenant Don Fulano de Tal. He is a good officer. He distinguished himself greatly in the recent affair." "Ah! otra cosa!" said the grim father-in-law. His hate could not overcome his sense of justice. The youth got his promotion, but his general will not recognize him at the club. It is in the middle and lower classes that the most perfect pictures of the true Spanish family are to be found. The aristocracy is more or less infected with the contagion of Continental manners and morals. You will find there the usual proportion of wives who despise their husbands, and men who neglect their wives, and children who do not honor their parents. The smartness of American "pickles" has even made its appearance among the little countesses of Madrid. A lady was eating an ice one day, hungrily watched by the wide eyes of the infant heiress of the house. As the latter saw the last hope vanishing before the destroying spoon, she cried out, "Thou eatest all and givest me none, - maldita sea tu alma!" (accursed be thy soul). This dreadful imprecation was greeted with roars of laughter from admiring friends, and the profane little innocent was smothered in kisses and cream.
Passing at noon by any of the squares or shady places of Madrid, you will see dozens of laboring-people at their meals. They sit on the ground, around the steaming and savory cocido that forms the peasant Spaniard's unvaried dinner. The foundation is of garbanzos, the large chick-pea of the country, brought originally to Europe by the Carthaginians, - the Roman cicer, which gave its name to the greatest of the Latin orators. All other available vegetables are thrown in; on days of high gala a piece of meat is added, and some forehanded housewives attain the climax of luxury by flavoring the compound with a link of sausage. The mother brings the dinner and her tawny brood of nestlings. A shady spot is selected for the feast. The father dips his wooden spoon first into the vapory bowl, and mother and babes follow with grave decorum. Idle loungers passing these patriarchal groups, on their way to a vapid French breakfast at a restaurant, catch the fragrance of the olla and the chatter of the family, and envy the dinner of herbs with love.