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fertility of Lope ceases to be a merit in the eyes of those who are fatigued with its details; but if they were no longer interesting to us as specimens of the dramatic art, they deserve our attention as presenting a picture of the manners and opinions then prevalent in Spain. It is in this point of view that I shall endeavour to trace in them the prejudices and manners of the Spaniards, their conduct in America, and their religious sentiments, at an epoch which, in some measure, corresponds to the wars of the League. Those too, to whom the Spanish stage in its rude state is without interest, cannot be indifferent to the character of a nation, which was at that time armed for the conquest of the world, and which, after having long held the destinies of France in the balance, seemed on the point of reducing her under its yoke, and forcing her to receive its opinions, its laws, its manners, and its religion.
A remarkable trait in all the chivalrous pieces of Spain is the slight honour and little remorse inspired by the commission of murder. There is no nation where so much indifference has been manifested for human life, where duels, armed rencounters, and assassinations, have been more common, arising from slighter causes, and accompanied with less shame and regret. All the Spanish heroes, at the commencement of their story, are in the predicament of having slain some powerful man, and are obliged to seek safety in flight. After a murder they are exposed, it
is true, to the vengeance of relations and to the pursuit of justice, but they are under the protection of religion and public opinion; they pass from one convent and church to another, until they reach a place of safety; and they are not only favoured by a blind compassion, but the whole body of the clergy make it a point of conscience, in their pulpits and confessionals, to extend their forgiveness to an unfortunate, who has given way to a sudden movement of anger, and by abandoning the dead to snatch a victim from the hands of justice. The same religious prejudice exists in Italy; an assassin is always sure of protection under the name of Christian charity from all belonging to the church, and by all that class of people immediately under the influence of the priests. Thus in no country in the world have assassinations been more frequent than in Italy and in Spain. In the latter country a village fête scarcely ever occurs without a person being killed. At the same time this crime ought, in reality, to wear a graver aspect amongst a superstitious people, since, according to their belief, the eternal sentence depends not on the general course of life, but on the state of the soul at the moment of death; so that he who is killed, being almost always at the moment of quarrel in a state of impenitence, there can be no doubt of his condemnation to eternal punishment. But neither the Spaniards nor the
Italians ever consult their reason in legislating on morals; they submit blindly to the decisions of casuists, and when they have undergone the expiations imposed on them by their confessors, they believe themselves absolved from all crime. These expiations have been rendered so much the more easy, as they are a source of riches to the clergy. A foundation of masses for the soul of the deceased, or alms to the church, or a sacrifice of money, in short, however disproportionate to the wealth of the culprit, will always suffice to wash away the stain of blood. The Greeks in the heroic ages required expiations before a murderer was permitted to enter again into their temples; but their expiations, far from enfeebling the civil authority, were designed to strengthen it: they were long and severe; the murderer was compelled to make · public penance, and felt himself stained by the blood he had shed. Thus among a fierce and half-savage people the authority of religion, in accordance with humanity, checked the effusion of human blood, and rendered an instance of assassination more rare in all Greece than in a single village in Spain.
There is not, perhaps, a play of Lope de Vega, which may not be cited in support of these remarks, and which does not discover in the national character a disregard for the life of others, a criminal indifference for evil, since it can be
expiated by the church, an alliance of religion and ferocity, and the admiration of the people towards men celebrated for many homicides. I shall choose for a corroboration of these opinions a comedy of Lope de Vega, entitled The Life of the valiant Cespedes. It will transport us to the camp of Charles V., and will shew us how those armies were composed which destroyed the protestants, and shook the German empire; and it will, in some sort, finish the historical picture of this reign, so remarkable in the revolutions of Europe, by acquainting us with the character and private life of those soldiers whom we are accustomed to regard only in the mass.
Cespedes, a gentleman of Ciudad-Real, in the kingdom of Toledo, was a soldier of fortune under Charles V., renowned for his valour and prodigious strength. The sister of this Samson of Spain, Donna Maria de Cespedes, was not less athletic than himself. Before entering into the service, he had invited all the carmen and porters to wrestle with him, and decide who could raise the heaviest weights; and when he was absent from home, Donna Maria, his sister, took his place, and wrestled with the first comer. The piece opens with a scene between this young damsel and two carmen of La Mancha, who contend with her who could farthest throw a heavy bar of iron. She proves herself stronger than either of them, and wins all their cattle and
forty crowns, for she never makes these trials of strength gratis; however, she generously restores her antagonists the mules, and keeps only their money. A gentleman in love with her, named Don Diego, disguises himself as a peasant, and desires to wrestle with her, not with the expectation of being victorious, but in the hope of having an opportunity of declaring his passion in her arms. He deposits as the reward of victory four pieces of Spanish coin; she accepts them, and the combat commences; but whilst their arms are intertwined, Don Diego addresses her in the following strain of gallantry :there on earth, lady, a glory equal to this, of finding myself in your arms? Where is the prince that had ever so happy a destiny? We are told of one who soared on wings of wax to the blazing orb of day; but he did not dare to wrestle with the sun, and if for such audacity he was precipitated into the sea, how shall I survive who have grasped the sun in my embrace? MARIA. You a peasant?
DIEGO. I know not.
MARIA. Your language, and the perfume you carry about you, excite my fears.
DIEGO. The language I have learned from yourself, for you have shed a ray of light on my soul; the perfume is that of the flowers on which I reposed, in the meadow, in meditating on my love.