The genuine village of Escorial lies mostly to the left of the station, but the artificial town which grew up with the palace is to the right. Both are called after the slag of the iron-smelting works which were and are the vital industry of the first Escorial; but the road to the palace takes you far from the slag, with a much-hoteled and garden-walled dignity, to the plateau, apparently not altogether natural, where the massive triune edifice stands in the keeping of a throng of American women wondering how they are going to see it, and lunch, and get back to their train in time. Many were trying, the day of our visit, to see the place with no help but that of their bewildering Baedekers, and we had constant reason to be glad of our guide as we met or passed them in the measureless courts and endless corridors.

At this distance of time and place we seem to have hurried first to the gorgeous burial vault where the kings and queens of Spain lie, each one shut in a gilded marble sarcophagus in their several niches of the circular chamber, where under the high altar of the church they have the advantage of all the masses said above them. But on the way we must have passed through the church, immense, bare, cold, and sullener far than that sepulcher; and I am sure that we visited last of all the palace, where it is said the present young king comes so seldom and unwillingly, as if shrinking from the shelf appointed for him in that crypt shining with gold and polished marble.

It is of death, not life, that the Escorial preaches, and it was to eternal death, its pride and gloom, and not life everlasting, that the dark piety of Philip voluntarily, or involuntarily, consecrated the edifice. But it would be doing a wrong to one of the greatest achievements of the human will, if one dwelt too much, or too wholly, upon this gloomy ideal. The Escorial has been many times described; I myself forbear with difficulty the attempt to describe it, and I satisfy my longing to set it visibly before the reader by letting an earlier visitor of my name describe it for me. I think he does it larger justice than modern observers, because he escapes the cumulative obligation which time has laid upon them to find the subjective rather than the objective fulfilment of its founder's intention in it. At any rate, in March, 1623, James Howell, waiting as secretary of the romantic mission the bursting of the iridescent love-dream which had brought Charles Stutart, Prince of Wales, from England to woo the sister of the Spanish king in Madrid, had leisure to write one of his most delightful "familiar letters" concerning the Escorial to a friend in London.

"I was yesterday at the Escorial to see the monastery of St. Lawrence, the eighth wonder of the world; and truly considering the site of the place, the state of the thing, the symmetry of the structure, with diverse other rareties, it may be called so; for what I have seen in Italy and other places are but baubles to it. It is built among a company of craggy hills, which makes the air the hungrier and wholesomer; it is all built of freestone and marble, and that with such solidity and moderate height that surely Philip the Second's chief design was to make a sacrifice of it to eternity, and to contest with the meteors and time itself. It cost eight millions; it was twenty-four years abuilding, and the founder himself saw it furnished and enjoyed it twelve years after, and carried his bones himself thither to be buried. The reason that moved King Philip to waste so much treasure was a vow he had made at the battle of St. Quentin, where he was forced to batter a monastery of St. Lawrence friars, and if he had the victory he would erect such a monument to St. Lawrence that the world had not the like; therefore the form of it is like a gridiron, the handle is a huge royal palace, and the body a vast monastery or assembly of quadrangular cloisters, for there are as many as there be months of the year. There be a hundred monks, and every one hath his man and his mule, and a multitude of officers; besides there are three libraries there full of the choicest books for all sciences. It is beyond all expression what grots, gardens, walks, and aqueducts there are there, and what curious fountains in the upper cloisters, for there be two stages of cloisters. In fine, there is nothing that is vulgar there. To take a view of every room in the house one must make account to go ten miles; there is a vault called the Pantheon under the high altar, which is all paved, walled, and arched with marble; there be a number of huge silver candlesticks taller than I am; lamps three yards compass, and diverse chalices and crosses of massive gold; there is one choir made all of burnished brass; pictures and statues like giants; and a world of glorious things that purely ravished me. By this mighty monument it may be inferred that Philip the Second, though he was a little man, yet he had vast gigantic thoughts in him, to leave such a huge pile for posterity to gaze upon and admire in his memory."