The terrible Torquemada dwelt for years in Valla-dolid and must there have excogitated some of the methods of the Holy Office in dealing with heresy. As I have noted, Ferdinand and Isabella were married there and Philip II. was born there; but I think the reader will agree with me that the highest honor of the city is that it was long the home of the gallant gentleman who after five years of captivity in Algiers and the loss of his hand in the Battle of Lepanto, wrote there, in his poverty and neglect, the first part of a romance which remains and must always remain one of the first if not the very first of the fictions of the world. I mean that
Dear son of memory, great heir of fame,
Michael Cervantes; and I wish I could pay here that devoir to his memory and fame which squalid circumstance forbade me to render under the roof that once sheltered him. One can never say enough in his praise, and even Valladolid seems to have thought so, for the city has put up a tablet to him with his bust above it in the front of his incredible house and done him the homage of a reverent inscription. It is a very little house, as small as Ariosto's in Ferrara, which he said was so apt for him, but it is not in a long, clean street like that; it is in a bad neighborhood which has not yet outlived the evil repute it bore in the days of Cervantes. It was then the scene of nightly brawls and in one of these a gentleman was stabbed near the author's house. The alarm brought Cervantes to the door and being the first to reach the dying man he was promptly arrested, together with his wife, his two sisters, and his niece, who were living with him and who were taken up as accessories before the fact. The whole abomination is matter of judicial record, and it appears from this that suspicion fell upon the gentle family (one sister was a nun) because they were living in that infamous place. The man whose renown has since filled the civilized world fuller even than the name of his contemporary, Shakespeare (they died on the same day), was then so unknown to the authorities of Valladolid that he had great ado to establish the innocence of himself and his household. To be sure, his Don Quixote had not yet appeared, though he is said to have finished the first part in that miserable abode in that vile region; but he had written poems and plays, especially his most noble tragedy of "Numancia," and he had held public employs and lived near enough to courts to be at least in their cold shade. It is all very Spanish and very strange, and perhaps the wonder should be that in this most provincial of royal capitals, in a time devoted to the extirpation of ideas, the fact that he was a poet and a scholar did not tell fatally against him. In his declaration before the magistrates he says that his literary reputation procured him the acquaintance of courtiers and scholars, who visited him in that pitiable abode where the ladies of his family cared for themselves and him with the help of one servant maid.
They had an upper floor of the house, which stands at the base of a stone terrace dropping from the wide, dusty, fly-blown street, where I stayed long enough to buy a melon (I was always buying a melon in Spain) and put it into my cab before I descended the terrace to revere the house of Cervantes on its own level. There was no mistaking it; there was the bust and the inscription; but it was well I bought my melon before I ventured upon this act of piety; I should not have had the stomach for it afterward. I was not satisfied with the outside of the house, but when I entered the open doorway, meaning to mount to the upper floor, it was as if I were immediately blown into the street again by the thick and noisome stench which filled the place from some unmentionable if not unimaginable source.
It was like a filthy insult to the great presence whose sacred shrine the house should have been religiously kept. But Cervantes dead was as forgotten in Valladolid as Cervantes living had been. In some paroxysm of civic pride the tablet had been set in the wall and then the house abandoned to whatever might happen. I thought foul shame of Valladolid for her neglect, and though she might have answered that her burden of memories was more than she could bear, that she could not be forever keeping her celebrity sweet, still I could have retorted, But Cervantes, but Cervantes! There was only one Cervantes in the world and there never would be another, and could not she watch over this poor once home of his for his matchless sake? Then if Valladolid had come back at me with the fact that Cervantes had lived pretty well all over Spain, and what had Seville done, Cordova done, Toledo done, Madrid done, for the upkeep of his divers sojourns more than she had done, after placing a tablet in his house wall? - certainly I could have said that this did not excuse her, but I must have owned that she was not alone, though she seemed most to blame.