The bull-fight is the national festival of Spain. The rigid Britons have had their fling at it for many years. The effeminate badaud of Paris has declaimed against its barbarity. Even the aristocracy of Spain has begun to suspect it of vulgarity and to withdraw from the arena the light of its noble countenance. But the Spanish people still hold it to their hearts and refuse to be weaned from it.
"As Panem et Circenses was the cry Among the Roman populace of old, So Pan y Toros is the cry in Spain."
It is a tradition which has passed into their national existence. They received it from nowhere. They have transmitted it nowhither except to their own colonies. In late years an effort has been made to transplant it, but with small success. There were a few bull-fights four years ago at Havre. There was a sensation of curiosity which soon died away. This year in London the experiment was tried, but was hooted out of existence, to the great displeasure of the Spanish journals, who said the ferocious Islanders would doubtless greatly prefer baiting to death a half dozen Irish serfs from the estate of Lord Fritters, - a gentle diversion in which we are led to believe the British peers pass their leisure hours.
It is this monopoly of the bull-fight which so endears it to the Spanish heart. It is to them conclusive proof of the vast superiority of both the human and taurine species in Spain. The eminent torero, Pepe Illo, said: "The love of bulls is inherent in man, especially in the Spaniard, among which glorious people there have been bull-fights ever since bulls were, because," adds Pepe, with that modesty which forms so charming a trait of the Iberian character, "the Spanish men are as much more brave than all other men, as the Spanish bull is more savage and valiant than all other bulls."
The sport permeates the national life. I have seen it woven into the tapestry of palaces, and rudely stamped on the handkerchief of the peasant. It is the favorite game of children in the street. Loyal Spain was thrilled with joy recently on reading in its Paris correspondence that when the exiled Prince of Asturias went for a half-holiday to visit his imperial comrade at the Tuileries, the urchins had a game of "toro" on the terrace, admirably conducted by the little Bourbon and followed up with great spirit by the little Montijo-Bonaparte.
The bull-fight has not always enjoyed the royal favor. Isabel the Catholic would fain have abolished bathing and bull-fighting together. The Spaniards, who willingly gave up their ablutions, stood stoutly by their bulls, and the energetic queen was baffled. Again when the Bourbons came in with Philip V., the courtiers turned up their thin noses at the coarse diversion, and induced the king to abolish it. It would not stay abolished, however, and Philip's successor built the present coliseum in expiation. The spectacle has, nevertheless, lost much of its early splendor by the hammering of time. Formerly the gayest and bravest gentlemen of the court, mounted on the best horses in the kingdom, went into the arena and defied the bull in the names of their lady-loves. Now the bull is baited and slain by hired artists, and the horses they mount are the sorriest hacks that ever went to the knacker.
One of the most brilliant shows of the kind that was ever put upon the scene was the Festival of Bulls given by Philip IV. in honor of Charles I.,
"When the Stuart came from far,
Led by his love's sweet pain,
To Mary, the guiding star
That shone in the heaven of Spain."
And the memory of that dazzling occasion was renewed by Ferdinand VII. in the year of his death, when he called upon his subjects to swear allegiance to his baby Isabel. This festival took place in the Plaza Mayor. The king and court occupied the same balconies which Charles and his royal friend and model had filled two centuries before. The champions were poor nobles, of good blood but scanty substance, who fought for glory and pensions, and had quadrilles of well-trained bull-fighters at their stirrups to prevent the farce from becoming tragedy. The royal life of Isabel of Bourbon was inaugurated by the spilled blood of one hundred bulls save one. The gory prophecy of that day has been well sustained. Not one year has passed since then free from blood shed in her cause.