It is the distinct merit of the Escorial that it does not, and perhaps cannot take long in doing; otherwise the doer could not bear it. A look round the sumptuous burial chamber of the sovereigns below the high altar of the church; a glance at the lesser sepulchral glories of the infantes and infantas in their chapels and corridors, suffices for the funereal third of the trinity of tomb and temple and palace; and though there are gayer constituents of the last, especially the gallery of the chapter-house, with its surprisingly lively frescoes and its sometimes startling canvases, there is not much that need really keep you from the royal apartments which seem the natural end of your visit. Of these something better can be said than that they are no worse than most other royal apartments; our guide led us to them through many granite courts and corridors where we left groups of unguided Americans still maddening over their Baedekers; and we found them hung with pleasing tapestries, some after such designs of Goya's as one finds in the basement of the Prado. The furniture was in certain rooms cheerily upholstered in crimson and salmon without sense of color, but as if seeking relief from the gray of the church; and there are battle-pieces on the walls, fights between Moors and Christians, which interested me. The dignified consideration of the custodian who showed us through the apartments seemed to have adapted to our station a manner left over from the infrequent presence of royalty; as I have said, the young king of Spain does not like coming to the Escorial.

I do not know why any one comes there, and I search my consciousness in vain for a better reason than the feeling that I must come, or would be sorrier if I did not than if I did. The worthy Howell does not commit himself to any expression of rejoicing or regretting in having done the Escorial. But the good Theophile Gautier, who visited the place more than two hundred years after, owns frankly that he is "excessively embarrassed in giving his opinion" of it. "So many people," he says, "serious and well-conditioned, who, I prefer to think, have never seen it, have spoken of it as a chef d'oeuvre, and a supreme effort of the human spirit, so that I should have the air, poor devil of a facilletoniste errant, of wishing to play the original and taking pleasure in my contrary-mindedness; but still in my soul and conscience I cannot help finding the Escorial the most tiresome and the most stupid monument that could be imagined, for the mortification of his fellow-beings, by a morose monk and a suspicious tyrant. I know very well that the Escorial had a serious and religious aim; but gravity is not dryness, melancholy is not marasm, meditation is not ennui, and beauty of forms can always be happily wedded to elevation of ideas." This is the Frenchman's language as he goes into the Escorial; he does not cheer up as he passes through the place, and when he comes out he has to say: "I issued from that desert of granite, from that monkish necropolis with an extraordinary feeling of release, of exultation; it seemed to me I was born into life again, that I could be young once more, and rejoice in the creation of the good God, of which I had lost all hope in those funeral vaults. The bland and luminous air wrapt me round like a soft robe of fine wool, and warmed my body frozen in that cadaverous atmosphere; I was saved from that architectural nightmare, which I thought never would end. I advise people who are so fatuous as to pretend that they are ever bored to go and spend three or four days in the Escorial; they will learn what real ennui is and they will enjoy themselves all the rest of their lives in reflecting that they might be in the Escorial and that they are not."

That was well toward a century ago. It is not quite like that now, but it is something like it; the human race has become inured to the Escorial; more tourists have visited the place and imaginably lightened its burden by sharing it among their increasing number. Still there is now and then one who is oppressed, crushed by it, and cannot relieve himself in such ironies as Gautier's, but must cry aloud in suffering like that of the more emotional De Amicis: "You approach a courtyard and say, 'I have seen this already.' No. You are mistaken; it is another. . . . You ask the guide where the cloister is and he replies, 'This is it,' and you walk on for half an hour. You see the light of another world: you have never seen just such a light; is it the reflection from the stone, or does it come from the moon? No, it is daylight, but sadder than darkness. As you go on from corridor to corridor, from court to court, you look ahead with misgivings, expecting to see suddenly, as you turn a corner, a row of skeleton monks with hoods over their eyes and crosses in their hands; you think of Philip II. . . . You remember all that you have read about him, of his terrors and the Inquisition; and everything becomes clear to your mind's eye with a sudden light; for the first time you understand it all; the Escorial is Philip II. ... He is still there alive and terrible, with the image of his dreadful God. . . . Even now, after so long a time, on rainy days, when I am feeling sad, I think of the Escorial, and then look at the walls of my room and congratulate myself. ... I see again the courtyards of the Escorial. ... I dream of wandering through the corridors alone in the dark, followed by the ghost of an old friar, crying and pounding at all the doors without finding a way of escape."

I am of another race both from the Frenchman and the Italian, and I cannot pretend to their experiences, their inferences, and their conclusions; but I am not going to leave the Escorial to the reader without trying to make him feel that I too was terribly impressed by it. To be sure, I had some light moments in it, because when gloom goes too far it becomes ridiculous; and I did think the convent gardens as I saw them from the chapter-house window were beautiful, and the hills around majestic and serious, with no intention of falling upon my prostrate spirit. Yes, and after a lifelong abhorrence of that bleak king who founded the Escorial, I will own that I am, through pity, beginning to feel an affection for Philip II.; perhaps I was finally wrought upon by hearing him so endearingly called Philly by our guide.

Yet I will not say but I was glad to get out of the Escorial alive; and that I welcomed even the sulkiness of the landlord of the hotel where our guide took us for lunch. To this day I do not know why that landlord should have been so sour; his lunch was bad, but I paid his price without murmuring; and still at parting he could scarcely restrain his rage; the Escorial might have entered into his soul. On the way to his hotel the street was empty, but the house bubbled over with children who gaped giggling at his guests from the kitchen door, and were then apparently silenced with food, behind it. There were a great many flies in the hotel, and if I could remember its name I would warn the public against it.

After lunch our guide lapsed again to our conductor and reappeared with his motor-bus and took us to the station, where he overcame the scruples of the lady in the ticket-office concerning our wish to return to Madrid by the Sud-Express instead of the ordinary train. The trouble was about the supplementary fare which we easily paid on board; in fact, there is never any difficulty in paying a supplementary fare in Spain; the authorities meet you quite half-way. But we were nervous because we had already suffered from the delays of people at the last hotel where our motor-bus stopped to take up passengers; they lingered so long over lunch that we were sure we should miss the Sud-Express, and we did not see how we could live in Escorial till the way-train started; yet for all their delays we reached the station in time and more. The train seemed strangely reduced in the number of its cars, but we confidently started with others to board the nearest of them; there we were waved violently away, and bidden get into the dining-car at the rear of the train. In some dudgeon we obeyed, but we were glad to get away from Escorial on any terms, and the dining-car was not bad, though it had a somewhat disheveled air. We could only suppose that all the places in the two other cars were taken, and we resigned ourselves to choosing the least coffee-stained of the coffee-stained tables and ordered more coffee at it. The waiter brought it as promptly as the conductor collected our supplementary fare; he even made a feint of removing the stains from our table-cloth with a flourish of his napkin, and then he left us to our conjectures and reflections till he came for his pay and his fee just before we ran into Madrid.