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Every one of any imagination, every one at all addicted to that grand art of dreaming with the eyes open, and building what are called castles in the air, has, I suppose, his own peculiar realm of dreamland, his own chosen country, his own favourite period; and from my earliest hour of fanciful idleness, down to this present moment, Spain, as it existed when the Moors ruled over the fairest part of that fair country, has been mine. It is probable that I am not singular in my choice. Our vivacious neighbours, the Gauls, when they call their
air-castles châteavie en Espagne, give some token of their preference for that romantic locality, and the finest créativns of Italian poetry, although tolerably, anomalous as to place and time, may yet as a whole be referred to the same period and the same country.
My fancy for the Moors, however, long preteded my acquaintance with Ariosto. What gave rise to it I cannot tell. Who can analyze or put a date to anything so impalpable! as well try to grasp a rainbow. Perhaps it arose from the melodious stanzas of “ Almanzor and Zayda,” the favourite of my childhood; perhaps from the ballads in “Don Quixote," or from Don Quixote himself, the darling of my youth ; perhaps from an old folio translation of Mariana's history, a book which I devoured at fifteen as girls of fifteen read romances, finding the truth, if truth it were, fully as amusing as fiction ; perhaps from the countless English comedies founded on Spanish subjects; perhaps from Corneille's Cid; perhaps from Le Sage's Gil Blas; perhaps from Mozart's Don Juan! Who can tell from what plant came the seed, or what wind wafted it ? Certain it is that at eighteen the fancy was full blown, and that ever since it has been fed by countless hands and nurtured by innumerable streams. Lord Holland's charming book on Lope de Vega, Murphy's magnificent work on Granada, Mr. Prescott's Spanish Histories, Washington Irving's graphic Chronicles, a host of French and English travellers in Spain, a host of Spanish travellers in South America, the popular works of Ford and Borrow, of Dumas and Scribe, Southey's poetry, Sir Walter's proseall conspired to keep alive the fancy.
But beyond a doubt, the works that have most fed the flame, have been Mr. Lockhart's spirited volume of Spanish ballads, to which the art of the modern translator has given the charm of the vigorous old poets; and Mr. Ticknor's “ History of Spanish Literature,” that rarest of all works in these days, when literature, like everything else, goes at railway speed, a conscientious book, which being the labour of a lifetime, will remain a standard authority for many generations.
In one of his recently published letters, Southey, himself a powerful though somewhat fantastic ballad writer, denies all merit to the Spanish ballads, accusing them of sameness, of want of action and of want of interest. To this there needs but Mr. Lockhart's book to reply; even if the transmittal of so long a series of poems floating upon the memories, and living in the hearts of a whole people were not answer enough: even if the very
materials and accessories of these ballads, the felicity of climate, the mixture of race; of Moor and Christian; of veiled beauty and armed knight; of fountained garden and pillared court; of gigantic cathedral and fantastic mosque ; of mountains crowned with chestnut and cork-tree, and clothed with cistus and lavender; of streams winding through tufted oleanders, amid vineyards, orange-groves and olivegrounds; of the rich halls of the Alhambra ; of the lordly towers of Seville; of shrine and abbey; of pilgrim and procession ; of bull-fight and tournament; of love and of battle; of princely paladins and learned caliphs, and still more learned Jews ! Why this is the very stuff of which poetry is made, and strange indeed it would have been, if born amongst such beauty, and happy in a language at once stately, flowing and harmonious, the great old minstrels, who, like their compeers of the Middle Ages, the equally great old architects, have bequeathed to us their works and not their names, had failed to find it.
The first specimen that I shall select is the ballad which Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, when at Toboso, overheard a peasant singing as he was going to his work at day-break.
THE ADMIRAL GUARINOS.
The day of Roncesvalles was a dismal day for you,
broke in two.
peer In fray or fight the dust did bite beneath Bernardo's spear.