José Echegaray.

The great Galeoto; Folly or saintliness; two plays done from the verse of José Echegaray into English prose by Hannah Lynch online

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Transcriber’s Note:

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_Of this edition 400 copies have been printed for England_

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Edinburgh: T. and A. CONSTABLE, Printers to Her Majesty


The Spanish theatre has for so long been out of fashion that a revived
interest in it would carry us into a sort of renaissance. It is not
virgin soil, like the drama of the north which has so lately caught the
ear of Europe. This, perhaps, accounts for its lack of distinctive
originality. For even in Echegaray's notable plays, strong and original
as they are, there is an unmistakable ring of the past. We feel it is
more a revival than a youthful outburst, with all the promise of
novelty. True, it is dominated by the modern need and its restless
searching note; it must prove its mission as something more than the
mere desire to divert. Not even a sermon could be more remote than this
theatre from the old comedy of manners, of loose morals and diverting
intrigue, all weighing as lightly on the dramatist's conscience as on
the audience's. And it may be questioned if Echegaray, a professor of
mathematics as well as a dramatist and poet, could be induced to accept
Mr. Stevenson's well-known and not inappropriate classification of the
artist as of the family of Daughters of Joy. His is no neutral voice
between vice and virtue, concerned solely for the pleasure or interest
of the hour, suing approbation through laughter and wit, or sympathy
through dramatic tears. Lest his audience should fail to carry their
musings on the problems of life to the theatre in the proper modern
spirit, he starts by pricking their conscience and exciting thought that
as little relieves them from the pressure of reality as one of Ibsen's
plays—though with the latter his having nothing else in common but this
determined purpose.

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Footnote 1:

Part of this introduction is reprinted from an article in the
_Contemporary Review_, and my thanks are due to the publishers for the

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José Echegaray was born at Madrid in 1832. The years of childhood were
passed in Murcia, where at the university he studied and took out his
degrees. His tendency in youth was towards the exact sciences, with
which he still coquets in the same spirit of pride that pushed Goethe to
glory in his devotion to painting. He more readily offers to his friends
a volume of his _Modern Theories of Physics_ or the _Union of Material
Forces_ by which he is known to a select few, than one of his popular
dramas. Of the scientific value of these works I am not in a position to
offer any opinion. For career, he chose that of engineer, and, we are
told, gave evidence in this line of quite exceptional diligence and
quickness. Certain it is that in this department as well as in others
that followed, he has amply proved that in individual circumstances the
Don may be carried into a permanent frenzy of industry. In 1853 his
studies in engineering terminated. Echegaray was appointed successively
to posts in various provinces, until he returned to Madrid as professor
of the School of Engineers. Here he taught theoretical and applied
mathematics, and while building up a serious reputation in science, he
found time to study political economy, and devour every form of
literature, thus preparing for his future honours as poet and dramatist.
He took part in the revolution of 1868, and was appointed Director of
Public Works and Minister of Commerce. This post he resigned in 1872,
and shortly afterwards that of Minister of Finances, which he was forced
to give up on proclamation of the Republic. Then he emigrated to Paris,
where he composed his first play _El Libro Talonario_. In 1874 the
political situation permitted his return to Spain, and he was nominated
Minister for the third time. After that he began to hold himself more
and more aloof from public life, and took to writing for the theatre
with prodigious activity. Well advanced in middle age, he seems to have
taken Lope de Vega for his model in the matter of production. Within
twenty years he has written more than fifty plays. In a letter before
me, he offers me a choice of his recent plays (whose appearance can only
cover a couple of years, I believe), and thus names them off:—_El
Critico Incipiente_, _Los Dos Fanatismos_, _El Haroldo_, _El Milagro en
Egipto_, _Siempre en Ridiculo_, _Sic vos non vobis_, etc. etc., the
double etc. suggesting at least half a dozen more, I suppose.

This fatal facility is one of the drawbacks of Spanish talent. The race
writes without difficulty, which perhaps is the reason that it writes
without finish or distinction. Add to which in adopting French
romanticism, upon which wave it was irresistibly carried, it did but
accommodate the adoption of the natural bent of its own still mediæval
nature. For modern Spanish romanticism belongs more probably to the
sixteenth than to the nineteenth century. It is interesting to note the
rebound with which Victor Hugo's bell cast this semi-civilised and
dreaming people back into their own appropriate century. They prate
to-day in Madrid glibly enough of English improvements, clubs,
electricity, French vaudevilles, and all the pernicious refinements of
our modern civilisation. But these elements are extraneous, a sort of
diverting masquerade in their daily life. At heart they are purely
mediæval. In all the great moments on and off the stage, they forget the
silk hat and coat of civilisation, and walk and talk as if a sword still
absurdly cocked the cloak of romance.

In this hour, when foreign Shakespeares are springing up around us with
incredible profusion, it would be an agreeable task to come forward with
a Spanish Shakespeare. But Don José Echegaray is no such thing. He bears
no resemblance to the new geniuses hailed with such delight. He has none
of the subtlety of Maeterlinck, and certainly offers entertainment by
means of tricks less reminiscent of our start in modern languages. His
literary baggage reveals neither the depth nor the flashes of luminous
thought with which Ibsen startles us through an obscurity of atmosphere,
a childish baldness, and an unconventional disregard of all the
old-fashioned theories upon which the laws of dramatic criticism have
been formed. But if Echegaray is less original, he is creditably more
sane. The lack of depth carries with it a corresponding absence of
crudeness and of an artlessness often so bewildering as to leave us
imperfectly capable of distinguishing the extreme fineness of the line
between genius and insanity. The lucid air of the south clarifies
thought, and produces nothing less sober than Latin bombast and the
high-phrased moods of the Don.

What is more to be deplored in Echegaray's plays is the absence of
French art. An artist in the polished, complete sense he cannot be
described. He has none of the French dramatist's incision, none of his
delicate irony, his playfulness and humorous depravity, none of his
beautiful clarity of expression, still less of his polish, his wit, and
consummate dexterity. Poetry is his favourite form of dramatic
expression, but it is not the suave measured poetry of M. Richepin; and
while he often takes his inspiration from the Middle Ages, he offers us
nothing like the ethereal and fanciful verse of M. Armand Silvestre,
when that author condescends to forget that he is _fin de siècle_, and
seeks to please through the sweetness and delicacy of some mediæval
legend. Echegaray is poet enough to delight in these thrilling ages. But
his treatment of them generally leaves us cold. It lacks fancy and
buoyancy. Sombre passion does not adequately fill the place of absent
humour. It is often thin and false, and glaringly artificial, like the
mediæval romance of an inefficient author. It is a remarkable fact that
such a play as _Mar sin Orillas_ (Shoreless Sea) should have achieved
popularity in a town so imitatively, not intellectually, modern as
Madrid. It has no originality whatever, and offers nothing as
compensation for dulness. It is of the Middle Ages, but without the
captivating atmosphere of those plumed and belted centuries. It runs
complacently along the old dusty highroad; swords clash, knights march
off to glory and the Turkish wars, and beauty at home struggles with
parental enmity, is sore distraught and belied, and while we are
reminded in the high tone of the ancient singers, that

'Amor que á la guerra fué
Sabe Dios si volverá,'

we are confused by the stupidity of everybody.

This repertory is extended, but can hardly be called varied. The one
note of undiluted drama runs through all, and while the poet declaims
upon a lofty level, it may be said that he chiefly reaches poetry
through means of the felicitous vocables of the language he has the
privilege to write, rather than by reason of any real genius as a poet.
He is concerned more with striking situations than with development or
revelation of character. In this line he is totally lacking in diversity
and subtlety. He apprehends woman in none other but the crude, mediæval
form. To him she is simply a personality of divine and inexhaustible
love—an exalted and inalterable ideal; and whether she wears modern
raiment or the garb of remote centuries, she is never anything but a
spiritualised stain-glass outline, which affords gross and barbaric
males—Velasquez' heroes and high-toned villains—much opportunity to rant
of saints and angels, and is a subject for continuous worship,
ill-treatment, misunderstanding, and devotion to death.

The very titles of these plays have a fine melodramatic ring—_The
Avenger's Bride_, _On the Sword's Point_, _In the Bosom of Death_, and
_Death upon the Lips_, etc. In Spanish the titles are beautiful and
inspiring enough to justify choice. _En el Seno de la Muerte_ is a
particularly impressive play, which rings imagination back into the
thirteenth century almost upon a thrill with its strong Hugoesque tinge
of romance. There is no fluted fervour of lovers, no thrum of lute or
impassioned sequidilla to enliven the roll of solemn wedded passion and
betrayal. Remorse and stern hidalgic resentment stalk the stage
grandiloquently to the blare of trumpets, royal entrances and exits, and
the hum of the Roussillon wars. We have the inevitable struggle between
love and duty, the inevitable sombre judgment and full-dress sentiments
of virtue. Echegaray has apparently no understanding of vice except as
subject for castigation. The bastard Manfred, beloved of his legitimate
brother and seignor, loves his sister-in-law Beatrix. Don Jaime, the
injured husband, has all the noble and melancholy charm of a Velasquez
portrait, the model upon which the dramatist would seem to have drawn
his unvarying study of the Middle Ages Don. They all carry their black
velvet and plumes with the same high air, seem equally unacquainted with
smiles and the lighter emotions, and breathe the same unapproachable
perfection in domestic life. For each one the wife is sovereign lady,
and if they betray anger, it is the anger of heroes who never forget
that they are hidalgoes, and who are incapable of falling, upon any
provocation, into triviality or pleasantry of speech. Small blame to the
ladies of such lords if they sometimes forget their oath of allegiance,
and occasionally decline upon lesser natures. However picturesque, as
housemates these Velasquez gentlemen are beyond endurance, and deserve
to perish victims of their own relentless nobility.

Don Jaime adored his wife and loved his half-brother. Both in turn loved
him, and recognised to the full his claim upon their mutual admiration.
But this was naturally no impediment to their own frailty, though not
even Echegaray's sinners are for one moment permitted to give a cheerful
aspect to sin. It is perhaps a double unwisdom to stoop to folly when
they mean to be so persistently miserable over it. Certain it is, that
in this case the lady's choice cannot have been prompted by any desire
for a lively change. Manfred is only a more scowling, discontented
edition of the legitimate Don. 'You are sadder than ever, and your hand
avoids the touch of mine,' he complains to Beatrix in the beginning of
the second act. And she replies: 'I am ever sad. Sorrow is throned
within my bosom, and so imperious is its possession, that death alone
can free its slave.' And then when Manfred prays for death as a mutual
deliverance, she reproaches him: 'Does my love not then suffice you? If
so, live and enjoy it, or confess that of our sin the vase only contains
the bitterness, the shame and the disenchantment.'

MANFRED. Your love is but a lie, since I strain in my embrace naught but
a cold and inert marble statue. While your soul, your mind,
yourself—all that I most fondly love eludes the touch of my lips, and
my heart hears the disdainful murmur: 'This is not for the bastard.'

BEATRIX. 'Tis not so. You do not understand me.

MANFRED. Yes, I understand you. You have only loved Jaime.

BEATRIX. So deeply have I loved you, Manfred, that I have forsaken
Jaime, noble as he is, for you who are so base. I have given myself to
you, drawn by the attraction of the abyss which is your love. And I
thought that I could live and be happy under cover of my sin, but it
may not be. For ever between my breast and your arms he interposes.

They try to persuade themselves upon insufficient evidence that Jaime is
dead, but Beatrix, the more nervous and impressionable of the two,
endures the conviction of her senses that her husband lives as the added
torture of fear to insistent remorse. Every sound that disturbs the
silence, as they sit together by the fire, carries menace of his
approach. 'Why are we not happy since we love one another?' Manfred
bitterly cries, interrupting her terrified listening. Here is the
keynote of Echegaray's philosophy, whether he marshals the dead
centuries before us, or treats of the modern conscience. Even in the
less complex ages, when the world was younger and fresher, he will not
hear of obedience to instinct unpunished before even the fruit has had
time to turn to ashes.

We understand that we are commanded to contemplate unrelieved gloom of
sentiment and situation upon the entrance of Don Jaime, back from the
Roussillon wars in company with Don Pedro, king of Aragon. The guilty
lovers have an enemy in one Juana, the duenna and wife of Roger, the
squire, who, discovering Beatrix and Manfred in a passionate embrace, is
set upon by the infuriated bastard and inadvertently driven upon the
sword's point into the family vault, where the door slams upon him with
a secret spring. When Manfred has excited the king's anger by scornful
rejection of the favour of a name and title that shall give him equality
with his brother, we realise that the hour is a favourable one for
Juana's accusation. Whatever rights a sovereign may arrogate to himself
in the matter of his own morals, he is usually a keen arbitrator of the
limitations of those of his subjects. On this principle, Don Pedro shows
himself merciless to the sinners, though one happens to be his hostess
and the other his host's much-loved brother. A rational man would have
preferred to blink and turn away, with the safe conclusion that it was,
after all, none of his business. But monarchs are allowed so many other
attributes, that even out of Spain they may be fitly dispensed with
reason. In an interview with the culprits, when a saner man would have
been touched with the generous strife between them as to which should
bear the blame and punishment, he decides that both shall die. Upon
Manfred's petition, he consents that Jaime shall live in ignorance of
his wrong, but the poor fool, for all his crown, was not sufficiently
master of events to contrive this rash promise. Spanish history may
furnish a precedent of such a situation, but we are not taught that the
lives of the monarchs of the land explain it adequately. When Jaime
enters and remonstrates with Don Pedro:—'I am her owner, sir. All your
power, your crown, your greatness, the glory of Sicily and of the entire
world—what are they against Beatrix! But smoke and dust,'—the king
commutes her sentence to perpetual imprisonment, and orders the
execution of Manfred in Barcelona. Upon this Jaime threatens to carry
both away with him, forswear his king and country, and cross the
frontier. A violent quarrel ensues between him and the king, and in the
midst of recriminations, Don Pedro casts his dishonour in the teeth of
his angry subject. The unfortunate nobleman, dazed and incredulous,
reads Roger's letter, given him by Don Pedro, and falls into a
spiritless despair. He asks his sovereign's pardon, and they part
reconciled friends. Left alone by the family vault at night, he bursts
into a sonorous soliloquy. We remember a somewhat similar situation in
Victor Hugo, and are irritated by the reminiscence. There is a natural
note in his simple cry to Beatrix to speak to him before she dies—to
lie, feign, accuse him,—only speak. Also in the speech to Manfred that
follows, when he recalls the time they were playmates together, and then
tells bitterly the roll of his wrongs: 'It were kinder to kill me at
once,' Manfred cries impetuously. By a curious ineffectuality, a lack of
skill, it however falls just short of real pathos. Echegaray is never
simple enough to reach pathos. The climax has a false ring. Manfred dies
by his own hand, and, following his example, Jaime stabs himself, and
falls near him, in the shadow of the tomb.

D. JAIME. Manfred, too, lies dead, and you shortly will follow us. When
you die, where will you fall?

BEATRIX. By your side.

D. JAIME. Then come closer—'tis no lie? Answer. [_Clasps her._]


D. JAIME. And where will your tears flow?

BEATRIX. Over your body.

D. JAIME. Then see. You must embrace my inert body. Do not cease
weeping—so that—thus we drop into the bosom of death.

_Death on his Lips_ takes us into quite another atmosphere. We are in
foreign lands, on the distant shore of Lake Geneva, in the heart of the
Calvinist Inquisition. The Don is introduced, but only as an exile, in
the person of Miguel Servet, a famous Aragonese doctor who was martyred
at Geneva in 1553. The Calvinists are painted in befitting blackness by
a Spaniard, naturally glad of an opportunity to show that other lands
had their Inquisition as well as Spain, and cruelty in those days was to
be found as fierce elsewhere. It is a gloomy, a powerful, but not a very
interesting play. Servet is well contrasted with the Genevese, the
heaviness of the one race being dexterously made to appear so much less
amiable and well-mannered than that of the other. The heroine, Margarita
(naturally), is the usual heroine of Echegaray's choice—all heart,
devotion, generosity, sincerity, and a certain broad intelligence. He
may be trusted not to choose a fool, though he may never aspire to
striking originality in his portrayal of what he evidently regards as
the angelic sex.

_On the Sword's Point_ attains a higher level of dramatic thought. Doña
Violante is married to Don Rodrigo—the inevitable Velasquez, in plumes
and black velvet. In the first bloom of youth, a titled blackguard had
surprised and dishonoured her, and Fernando, her son, is the unsuspected
offspring of this shame. He is a fine-spirited young fellow, more fiery
and blusterous than the implacably dignified Rodrigo. He loves, and is
beloved by, Laura, the ward of his parents. An unconscious vein of
humour runs through the pompous scene, in which he is found by these
latter on his knees before the girl. Don Rodrigo is shocked at such
indelicate boldness—just like the amusing Marquis in _The Sorcerer_.
'They love each other,' Doña Violante expostulates. 'It is necessary to
be severe with youth,' the Don replies, repressing his indignation at
the bidding of his wife. Then he proceeds to point out to Fernando that
henceforth Laura's honour must be as dear to him as his own, and after
an eulogy on the virtue of the ladies of his house, he explains that if
the stain of dishonour dimmed the splendour of the name of Moncada in a
woman, it would be the duty of her husband, father, or brother to kill
her on the spot. This is not lively talk for Doña Violante, but life was
not a lively matter for women in those dull days—especially in Spain,
where it still is the reverse of exciting for them. The young man's
ardent youth puzzles Don Rodrigo, it is so unlike his own, and these
perplexities are disturbed by the titled blackguard's sudden claim to
Laura's hand—whom he describes as a mixture of Turkish houri and
Christian virgin. Thereupon ensues a painful scene between the victim
and the wrong-doer. The titled blackguard shows himself susceptible of
the feelings of a gentleman, and deplores the sin of his rash youth—does
he also not wear black velvet and a plumed cap? However, he has no mind
to renounce his claim to Laura's hand though Doña Violante kneel to him,
and Fernando swagger about with unsheathed steel. The duenna and the
squire (from whom a little humour might not unreasonably be expected if
it were possible to convict so serious a philosopher as the author with
anything like deliberate pleasantry) contrive to muddle the carriage of
Doña Violante's passionate letter to her betrayer, speaking of the fatal
night with lamentable lucidity, so that it falls into Fernando's hands,
who instantly believes that Laura is the injured woman. Some spirited
scenes ensue, and Fernando interrupts an interview in the dark as he
believes between Laura and his rival. A light reveals his mother's
shame, and when Don Rodrigo enters after Laura he does not hesitate to
sacrifice himself and the beloved by letting it appear that it was Laura
he discovered at a clandestine meeting instead of his mother. The result
is that Laura is condemned by the relentless Moncada to marry the titled
blackguard, being now too damaged an article for the son of his house.
This is a delicate dilemma for a youth with such traditions to live up
to: to have to choose between his mother's death and dishonour and the
dishonour and loss of his bride. His birth is only revealed to him by
Doña Violante to prevent the sacrilegious duel between him and his
father, and to guard the dreadful secret Fernando stabs himself. 'My
death, mother, blots out your dishonour.' The third act hurries on
through many strong effects, and the young man's death we feel to have
the appropriate majesty of the inevitable. The situation is so poignant
that there could be no other solution, and even the titled blackguard
wins our sympathy in that last tragic scene.

The same gloom and power pervade _The Avenger's Bride_, the old story of
Montague and Capulet. But here the young Montague, one Don Carlos, slays
the traditional family enemy, who happens to be the father of a
weak-sighted maiden. She emerges into the strong sunlight just in time
to recognise her father's assassin, and then is struck blind. Don Carlos
woos her under another name, and an old lover, who is an enlightened
oculist of the Middle Ages, restores her sight. Her lover Lorenzo had

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Online LibraryJosé EchegarayThe great Galeoto; Folly or saintliness; two plays done from the verse of José Echegaray into English prose by Hannah Lynch → online text (page 1 of 14)