Upon the whole I am not sure that I was more edified by the cathedral of Toledo, though I am afraid to own it, and must make haste to say that it is a cathedral surpassing in some things any other cathedral in Spain. Chiefly it surpasses them in the glory of that stupendous retablo which fills one whole end of the vast fane, and mounting from floor to roof, tells the Christian story with an ineffable fullness of dramatic detail, up to the tragic climax of the crucifixion, the Calvario, at the summit. Every fact of it fixes itself the more ineffaceably in the consciousness because of that cunningly studied increase in the stature of the actors, who always appear life-size in spite of their lift from level to level above the spectator. But what is the use, what is the use? Am I to abandon the young and younger wisdom with which I have refrained in so many books from attempting the portrayal of any Italian, any English church, and fall into the folly, now that I am old, of trying to say again in words what one of the greatest of Spanish churches says in form, in color? Let me rather turn from that vainest endeavor to the trivialities of sight-seeing which endear the memory of monuments and make the experience of them endurable. The beautiful choir, with its walls pierced in gigantic filigree, might have been art or not, as one chose, but the three young girls who smiled and whispered with the young man near it were nature, which there could be no two minds about. They were pathetically privileged there to a moment of the free interplay of youthful interests and emotions which the Spanish convention forbids less in the churches than anywhere else.

The Spanish religion is, in fact, kind to the young in many ways, and on our way to the cathedral we had paused at a shrine of the Virgin in appreciation of her friendly offices to poor girls wanting husbands; they have only to drop a pin inside the grating before her and draw a husband, tall for a large pin and short for a little one; or if they can make their offering in coin, their chances of marrying money are good. The Virgin is always ready to befriend her devotees, and in the cathedral near that beautiful choir screen she has a shrine above the stone where she alighted when she brought a chasuble to St. Ildefonso (she owed him something for his maintenance of her Immaculate Conception long before it was imagined a dogma) and left the print of her foot in the pavement. The fact is attested by the very simple yet absolute inscription:

  Quando la Reina del Cielo 
  Puso los pies en el suelo, 
  En esta piedra los puso,

or as my English will have it:

  When the Queen of Heaven put 
  Upon the earth her foot, 
  She put it on this stone

and left it indelible there, so that now if you thrust your finger through the grille and touch the place you get off three hundred years of purgatory: not much in the count of eternity, but still something.

We saw a woman and a priest touching it as we stood by and going away enviably comforted; but we were there as connoisseurs, not as votaries; and we were trying to be conscious solely of the surpassing grandeur and beauty of the cathedral. Here as elsewhere in Spain the passionate desire of the race to realize a fact in art expresses itself gloriously or grotesquely according to the occasion. The rear of the chorus is one vast riot of rococo sculpture, representing I do not know what mystical event; but down through the midst of the livingly studied performance a mighty angel comes plunging, with his fine legs following his torso through the air, like those of a diver taking a header into the water. Nothing less than the sublime touch of those legs would have satisfied the instinct from which and for which the artist worked; they gave reality to the affair in every part.

I wish I could give reality to every part of that most noble, that most lovably beautiful temple. We had only a poor half-hour for it, and we could not do more than flutter the pages of the epic it was and catch here and there a word, a phrase: a word writ in architecture or sculpture, a phrase richly expressed in gold and silver and precious marble, or painted in the dyes of the dawns and sunsets which used to lend themselves so much more willingly to the arts than they seem to do now. From our note-books I find that this cathedral of Toledo appeared more wonderful to one of us than the cathedral of Burgos; but who knows? It might have been that the day was warmer and brighter and had not yet shivered and saddened to the cold rain it ended in. At any rate the vast church filled itself more and more with the solemn glow in which we left it steeped when we went out and took our dreamway through the narrow, winding, wandering streets that seemed to lure us where they would. One of them climbed with us to the Alcazar, which is no longer any great thing to see in itself, but which opens a hospitable space within its court for a prospect of so much of the world around Toledo, the world of yellow river and red fields and blue mountains, and white-clouded azure sky, that we might well have mistaken it for the whole earth. In itself, as I say, the Alcazar is no great thing for where it is, but if we had here in New York an Alcazar that remembered historically back through French, English, Arabic, Gothic. Roman, and Carthaginian occupations to the inarticulate Iberian past we should come, I suppose, from far and near to visit it. Now, however, after gasping at its outlook, we left it hopelessly, and lost ourselves, except for our kindly guide, in the crooked little stony lanes, with the sun hot on our backs and the shade cool in our faces. There were Moorish bits and suggestions in the white walls and the low flat roofs of the houses, but these were not so jealous of their privacy as such houses were once meant to be. Through the gate of one we were led into a garden of simple flowers belted with a world-old parapet, over which we could look at a stretch of the Gothic wall of King Wamba's time, before the miserable Roderick won and lost his kingdom. A pomegranate tree, red with fruit, overhung us, and from the borders of marigolds and zinnias and German clover the gray garden-wife gathered a nosegay for us. She said she was three duros and a half old, as who should say three dollars and a half, and she had a grim amusement in so translating her seventy years.