Familiar Spanish Travels

Familiar Spanish Travels

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I. AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL APPROACHES I.

As the train took its time and ours in mounting the uplands toward Granada on the soft, but not too soft, evening of November 6, 1911, the air that came to me through the open window breathed as if from an autumnal night of the middle eighteen-fifties in a little village of northeastern Ohio. I was now going to see, for the first time, the city where so great a part of my life was then passed, and in this magical air the two epochs were blent in reciprocal association. The question of my present identity was a thing indifferent and apart; it did not matter who or where or when I was. Youth and age were at one with each other: the boy abiding in the old man, and the old man pensively willing to dwell for the enchanted moment in any vantage of the past which would give him shelter.

In that dignified and deliberate Spanish train I was a man of seventy-four crossing the last barrier of hills that helped keep Granada from her conquerors, and at the same time I was a boy of seventeen in the little room under the stairs in a house now practically remoter than the Alhambra, finding my unguided way through some Spanish story of the vanished kingdom of the Moors. The little room which had structurally ceased fifty years before from the house that ceased to be home even longer ago had returned to the world with me in it, and fitted perfectly into the first-class railway compartment which my luxury had provided for it. From its window I saw through the car window the olive groves and white cottages of the Spanish peasants, and the American apple orchards and meadows stretching to the primeval woods that walled the drowsing village round. Then, as the night deepened with me at my book, the train slipped slowly from the hills, and the moon, leaving the Ohio village wholly in the dark, shone over the roofs and gardens of Granada, and I was no longer a boy of seventeen, but altogether a man of seventy-four.

I do not say the experience was so explicit as all this; no experience so mystical could be so explicit; and perhaps what was intimated to me in it was only that if I sometime meant to ask some gentle reader's company in a retrospect of my Spanish travels, I had better be honest with him and own at the beginning that passion for Spanish things which was the ruling passion of my boyhood; I had better confess that, however unrequited, it held me in the eager bondage of a lover still, so that I never wished to escape from it, but must try to hide the fact whenever the real Spain fell below the ideal, however I might reason with my infatuation or try to scoff it away. It had once been so inextinguishable a part of me that the record of my journey must be more or less autobiographical; and though I should decently endeavor to keep my past out of it, perhaps I should not try very hard and should not always succeed.

Just when this passion began in me I should not be able to say; but probably it was with my first reading of Don Quixote in the later eighteen-forties....