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and robbed, and were hanged, exactly after the fashion of the olden time.
Mr. De Trueba deserves praise for the literary courage which he has displayed on this occasion. He has thrown off the fetters of history, escaped from the gloom of the past ages, and talks to us of Madrid and its environs, and its inhabitants, as they appear at the present day. He might perhaps have imagined, as a connecting thread for his various scenes, a plot less tragical, and we might add less exaggerated than that which he has adopted. We shall not however lay too much stress upon this error; the path which he has attempted is new, and he ought therefore to be treated with indulgence. The mode in which his characters conduct themselves, their turn of thought and expression, their prejudices and practices are all thoroughly national. We perceive no foreign mixture in his leaven. His people are all Peninsular; they have nothing of London or Paris about them, either in their idiom or appearance. The work is, indeed, written in good English, but we might easily suppose it a translation from a modern Spanish novel, which, as every body knows, is a great rarity in our world of literature. It is sketchy, diversified, and highly animated from the commencement to the conclusion. Some of the characters are conspicuous and well drawn; others want finish, and betray the absence of those artistlike touches which convert a portrait into a cabinet picture. A little more experience, and perhaps a greater share of confidence, will, no doubt, contribute to amend these defects hereafter.
We must point out another imperfection which strikes us very disagreeably through almost every page of these volumes. The author seems to have entered upon his task under the impression that he could not himself appear too often upon the scene, or break in too frequently upon the conversations or actions of his dramatis personæ, with what he conceives to be dry and humourous digressive reflections, whereas in truth they are uniformly the most trite of common places, the most silly of puerilities. We shall string a few of these niaiseries together, which must offend the most ordinary taste.
What in nature can be more awful and affecting, than to see half a dozen female faces in deep sorrow?-Grief oftentimes, instead of detracting, adds to the loveliness and charm of a fair mourner; but it produces a very different effect upon those sorrowful beings, who are not fair, but rather what one calls very plain, and whom the less moderate part of the community denominate ugly.'
What in the world can be compared to the comforts of a good, soft, warm bed?'
'A solitary cloud cannot dim the brilliancy of a fine, clear, sunshiny day.'
Money affairs have been time out of date the cause of much mischief and misunderstanding in the world.'
It is really a matter of astonishment, how some good folks, especially of the female gender, will feel solicitous for the welfare of their fellow creatures.'
It is really surprizing what uncommon exertions men will sometimes make for the good of their fellow creatures.'
'It is a common saying that misfortunes never come alone, and though the maxim be a common one, we must make room for it in this book.'
It is always disagreeable to be interrupted with money-asking visits.'
'It it a very good sign when a lady gives a gentleman notice that she is about to quit,'
'It is astonishing what dangerous and artful seducers, unprotected, timid females are at the age of sixteen or eighteen.'
'It was vastly natural to be offended with the presence of a ruffian, for his appearance was by no means prepossessing, and no man likes to be tormented with an ungaily (sic) sight, especially if to this first is added that of being pestered with importunities.'
Staring is the first operation upon the reception of something which one does not expect.'
These are perhaps sufficient specimens of Mr. De Trueba's Laconics. A volume of such profound apothegms might easily be made up from the three before us. We have alluded to them in order that the author might in future avoid a style of writing which easily becomes a habit, and which even when sparingly used is exceedingly repulsive.
Although his main plot is, as we have intimated, rather too tragical, yet the outline of the tale is sufficiently simple and clear. His leading personage is the Countess de Belprado, one of the first women in Madrid as to birth and fashion. She is introduced upon the scene towards the latter part of her life, after she has become conscious of the stain which she has incurred by having formed an unworthy connection with a domestic of her own, named Enriquez. Her passions had so far enslaved her, that she contrived to get her husband imprisoned in the Inquisition, whence he effected his escape, only, as it was supposed, to perish at sea upon a voyage to America. In proportion as the influence of her paramour declined, his ambition became more inflamed; he resolved on compelling her to marry him, under the penalty of disclosing her guilt, which had hitherto been concealed from the eye of the world. Her daughter, Paulita, by a former marriage, whom she tenderly loved, was grown up, and it was necessary to get her wedded to a wealthy
husband, as her fortune had been already sacrificed to the avarice of Enriquez. The revelation of her secret at such a period would have been ruinous to Paulita's prospects. Don Marcos, a rich banker at Madrid, chanced to have a son, Carlos, upon whom the Countess fixed for her future son-in-law. The father gladly consented, as this union would raise his family to that rank in society for which he sighed. He hoped, moreover, through the influence of the Countess, to become a minister of state. The parents calculated in vain. The young lady has a penchant for a certain gay spark named Verdeflor, and the gentleman is already irrevocably prepossessed in favour of a damsel named Theresa, who turns out in the end to be the daughter, by a former union, of the Count de Belprado, although for some time appearing in the interesting character of an orphan. These, with Zurdo, a ruffian, are the principal persons of the drama. The accessories are Cortante, a nondescript; Don Deogracias, the brother of the banker; and Dona Tecla, an old maid, his sister, both devotees of the first water. The latter two characters, though subordinate, are perhaps the best drawn of the whole. The old maid resides at Aranjuez, where we are introduced to a bevy of country gossips, who appear to be painted from the life. The ridiculous and perverted piety of Deogracias is also well displayed, without at the same time offending any proper notion of religion.
Next to these we should rank Verdeflor, who is a sort of Mercutio, a wild hair-brained fellow, over head and ears in debt, yet at the bottom good-natured, and by no means destitute of honourable principles. Don Marcos, the banker, is also very amusing. His vanity, his worldly ambition, his anxiety to grace his wealth by the addition of fashion, and his solicitude for the rank of official station, render him a complete contrast to Deogracias. Carlos is a mere ninny. The Countess de Belprado is the portrait of a dissipated woman, apparently the most enviable person in Madrid, but torn to an insufferable degree of anguish by the sense of her secret criminality, and the importunities of her hated paramour. Enriquez and Zurdo are ruffians of the same kind, with this difference, that one hires himself to the other for money. The safe return of the Count from the voyage upon which he is supposed to have been lost, renders it necessary for Enriquez to dispose of him. Zurdo is employed, and well paid for this purpose, but he receives higher wages from his intended victim, whom he represents as murdered. He even produces a pair of human ears, to entitle himself to the balance of his blood-money. At the moment when the preparations for the forced marriage between Enriquez and the Countess are upon the eve of being concluded, her husband, who disguised himself for a while in Madrid, makes his appearance, to the consternation of the guilty pair. Enriquez plunges a dagger in her bosom, and next in his own, thereby making the tale rather more tragical than the ordinary run of modern novels.
The opening chapter affords a favourable specimen of Mr. De Trueba's style. We can speak to the truth of its descriptions from our own experience.
'In the vicinity of the Puerta del Sol, at Madrid, are to be seen a more than ordinary number of coffee-houses. They are daily thronged with visitors from the hours of two till four in the afternoon, and filled again in the evening. A coffee-house there is not the same melancholy, unsocial, selfish rendezvous it is in England, where the horror the natives feel for strangers is unequivocally shewn by the dismal gloom which pervades those places, sarcastically enough denominated, of public entertainment. Let not my readers then suppose that when I speak of a coffee-house, I mean that long, narrow room, separated by sundry hard wooden divisions, where three or four dull, heavy, fat, wine and porter-drinking burghers sit at leisure, poring over a tremendous newspaper with the requisite appendange of the pewter pot by their sides, to aid them in the digestion of their political dish.
A coffee-house at Madrid, on the other hand, is a place of general resort where people crowd to speak and to be spoken to; though I should prefer advising my friends to adopt rather the passive part of listeners, than the more difficult and dangerous one of orators. Of all these general rendezvous, the Coffee-house de Solito, in the Calle de Alcala,* and contiguous to the Puerta del Sol, was, at the time of which I am speaking, one of the most frequented by the Spanish public, on account of the excellency of the coffee served there. It was also famous for the curious amalgamation of nondescript and original characters with which the place was well stocked, and which afforded ample scope to the reflective powers of observant and philosophic strangers.
'It was now scarcely three in the afternoon, and the place was literally crowded with guests. On first entering, indeed, it was no easy matter to recognize any one, for the place, which of itself is sufficiently dark, was rendered doubly obscure by the hazy atmosphere created by the united effluvia of at least three score cigars of all ranks and denominations, from the humble cigarro de papelt to the true genuine Havanna. It was truly not a little edifying to see with what vigorous pertinacity the grave Spaniards continued to smoke, cough, drink coffee, imprecate, and gesticulate, without feeling in the least exhausted by the multiplicity of their pursuits, all in simultaneous action. The proficiency of the Spaniards in the art of smoking is so surprising, that you may see them speaking most eloquently, or at least most vociferously, without taking the cigar from their mouth, for they dexterously consign the fumigatory article to one corner of it, so that the rest remains perfectly unincumbered and ready for disputation.
The assemblage this day at the Café de Solito was as numerous as ever; there was to be seen the usual number of miserable, thin-looking officers, with sallow complexions, enormous black whiskers and mustachios, old military hats with tarnished lace, long faces, long cloaks, and
*The finest street in Madrid.'
A cigar made by rolling the leaf in a little bit of paper made for the purpose-it is most generally used in Spain.'
long swords, half-starved looks and dirty boots, together with all the et cetera of faded finery which distinguish a great number of those gentlemen who follow the profession of arms in Spain. There was also a reasonable number of empleados,* who, instead of sleeping out the siesta, came to sip coffee previous to their returning to their several offices. The antique cut of these worthies' clothes, and their rigid economy, clearly demonstrated the scantiness of their emoluments, with the additional mortification of a year's arrear in payment-things not at all unusual in the world.
'Besides these two principal classes, which furnish the greater part of the guests, there were many anomalous individuals who honoured the general congress with their presence. These are the indolent, the curious, and a sufficient quantum of those extraordinary beings whom nobody knows, though they generally contrive to know every body. These personages might be said in Spain to make part of the household furniture of coffee-houses, for there they are as stationary as their cigars from morning till night, without incurring one ochavot of expense; for even their smoking commodity they purchase at the cheap rate of a story or stale joke, and should this expedient fail, they are sure to procure it upon the loan system, for Spaniards of a certain class never beg-they merely in courtesy demand. Thus with the cigars cheaply obtained, and two or three tumblers of water, which are likewise to be had for asking, these abstemious epicures contrive to pass the day at once as anchorites and public men; only endeavouring to forget that they have not dined, a sort of oblivion unfortunately not easily to be acquired, It is wonderful how tenacious the memory is of what is purely gross and sensual, as we know that upon other occasions her functions can so unceremoniously be dispensed with.
Sometimes, indeed, when even the most unrelenting puffing of cigars is inadequate to the desired forgetfulness, Fortune kindly throws in the way of the patient dinner-martyrs some friend or acquaintance; that is, a person to whom they have spoken three times at a coffee-house, and then they most good-naturedly bestow their agreeable company on the friend in question. Besides, as they are not stiff, proud, ceremonious people, they at last end by complacently inviting themselves to another's dinner, a favour seldom rejected by a Spaniard from a friend to whom he has spoken three times in his life. Now among the numerous individuals that composed this motley company at the café, there were two who might more particularly attract the attention of an observing stranger. The first was a young man with a keen scrutinizing look, and on whose thin sharp contenance there was an expression of cleverness, blending with a tendency to satire. His dress and appearance bespoke a person moving in better society than the generality of those who frequented the place, so that he might be justly esteemed more a curious interloper than a regular customer. The other personage was an elderly man of gentleman-like deportment, who kept aloof from the rest of the company, and sipped his coffee at a small table in a retired corner. On his fine oval countenance might
* Employed under government.'
An extremely low coin, about the 8th part of a penny.'