Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes, February 20, 1906
55, Rue de Verneuil.
St. Mildred’s day.February 20 is the feast day of Saint Mildred of Thanet, abbess of Minster.
Again comes an anniversary, so I must write, not a letter this time, only a note to tell you that I am now settled here, and that I am so much pleased with the result that I can hardly bear not having you see it. I will not describe it to you, for my eloquence would be quite sure to paint something as far transcending the reality, as the reality transcends anything before seen, and you might be disappointed when you finally do see it.
The only advantage is that now I am definitely settled here, I find myself so much out of temper with the French that I don’t care to play with them. I trust that this will not last. As it is I sit before a wood fire and read German and Spanish, much Ibsen,Henrik Johan Ibsen (1828–1906), a Norwegian playwright, theater director, and poet. and other things. How is your German progressing? When I went to St. Germain des PrésThe Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, on the Left Bank in Paris, was built between 990 and 1014. This church was the site of the Anniversary. to pay my vows to your patron today I invoked blessings upon you, for, among other things, sending me, albeit unwillingly, to Germany. That land, truly appalling in exteriors, reveals daily new wonders to me now. Spain holds as much of my heart and head as ever. It is amazing how instead of crowding one thing out when it takes another in, one’s head has the expanding properties which permit it to keep both new and old. I should have been amazed two years ago had anyone told me that one day I would nurture a feeling of love for Germany.
Also, stranger even than the foregoing, I am now an open and shameless devotee of the base Baroque, not the whole Baroque, only the Spanish. But won’t you join with me about the Spanish Baroque? I did it all myself. I don’t know a human being with any capability of passion in such matters who agrees with me. Once, some three years ago or more—that summer I met you at BayreuthRoyall Tyler and Mildred Barnes and their mothers were together in Bayreuth, Germany, in 1902. See Autobiography (2:36).—I told my mother, on seeing a crowd of indignant Americans standing upon a bridge in Venice storming against the church of San MoïséThe church of San Moisè, Venice, was rebuilt in 1632 with a Baroque sculptural facade on the foundations of an earlier ninth-century church. opposite, as they had been instructed by Grant AllenGrant Allen (Charles Grant Blairfindie Allen) (1848–1899), a Canadian science writer, author, and novelist who traveled frequently and wrote a number of historical guidebooks. (it isn’t nice), that there were some standing there who should not taste of death before they should see Baroque glorified. Then I spoke prophetically, but without the slightest suspicion that I should see the prophecy fulfilled in myself first of all.
It began with what I term crypto-Baroquism. I hardly dared confess it to myself, it showed itself furtively in outbursts of sympathy for G. B. Tiepolo,Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696–1770), a Venetian painter and printmaker. See also letters of October 10, 1905, and April 11, 1906. when I was in Venice this spring. Then, when I went to London, feeling that something was at work within me, I made the melancholy round of the exhibitions, and went to the Tait [sic] Gallery,The Tate Gallery, London, founded in 1897, houses the national collection of British art. where it struck me that what was the matter was the English devilworship of bad-taste. Then, thought I, what is to be done? How comes it that for two hundred years—rather in all the course of Spanish art—not a victim of consequence has fallen to this devil.
Then I saw that taste is, like the other devil, only capable of harming if one believes in it. If one doesn’t believe in it, it simply does not exist. So I sacrificed my own exquisite taste, and denied my first master in art. As it happened, very close upon this I went to Spain, and was overwhelmed by the grandeur of Spanish Baroque of the middle period. I lay under the scented pines in the Field of the Star,One popular etymology of the name “Santiago de Compostela” suggests that “compostela” comes from the Latin campus stellae (“field of the star”); Santiago de Compostela would thus mean “Saint James in the Field of the Star.” and feasted my eyes upon the two towers and mad façade of the cathedral of Santiago.Catedral de Santiago de Compostela, a Romanesque-Gothic cathedral, build between 1075 and 1211, with Baroque additions. I walked at night round the GlorietaPórtico de la Gloria (Pórtico da Gloria), a sculpted portico located in the narthex of the western portal of the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela. The portico was sculpted between 1168 and 1188 by Master Mateo at the request of King Ferdinand II of León. and saw those two towers standing, bathed in cold moonlight—above a sea of Galician mist—and I formed a cult for José ChurrigueraJosé Benito de Churriguera (1665–1725), a Spanish architect and sculptor. The western facade of the Catedral de Santiago de Compostela was built in the late Baroque (or churrigueresque) style by Fernando Casas y Nóvoa (ca. 1670–1750) between 1738 and 1750.—the apostle of bad taste, at whom generations of art critics and cultured travelers, priests of the demon worship, have screamed in frenzied impotence.See, for example, Henry O'Shea and John Lomas in O'Shea's Guide to Spain and Portugal (London: A. and C. Black, 1905), where, in speaking of the decline of art in Spain during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, they write: “It may be defined the Gongorism of architecture, just as Gongora’s poetry can be called literary churrigueresque—a name generally applied to designate this bad taste as being that of José Churriguera” (lxv). See also Elizabeth Boyle O'Reilly in Heroic Spain (New York: Duffield, 1910), where she writes: “Salamanca claims a doubtful honor as the birthplace of that exponent of bad taste, José Churriguera” (152).
I went to Salamanca and saw with new eyes the Plaza Mayor,Plaza Mayor, a large plaza designed by members of the Churriguera family in a Spanish Baroque style and located in the center of Salamanca, Spain. The first phase of construction (1729–1735) occurred under the direction of Alberto Churriguera Ocaña (1676–1750), while the second phase (1750–1755) occurred under the direction of his nephew Manuel de Larra Churriguera. in whose sublime simplicity Churriguera has made the most beautiful square in the world. I saw the great high altar of silver with its huge silver candle sticks, and, behind, the vast hangings of red velvet, or, when some great funeral is held, of purple damask with tarnished silver borders.
Then it was that the last doubt vanished. I understood that the only frame which could possibly support this riot of colour and magnificent sweeping forms was a decadent classicism.
Now as this all manifested itself first at Venice, it clearly must have originated sometime in Germany. You remember that I protested against Marcel Schwob’sMarcel Schwob (1867–1905), a French writer. See also letters of August 1, 1905; September 1, 1905; October 10, 1905; November 1, 1905; April 11, 1906; and September 1, 1906. writing about Greece.His protest may have occurred verbally; or, if it occurred in writing, the letter has not been identified. What would I have said if you had suggested that through Germany I might arrive at an understanding of something Spanish which had been hidden from me? And so if in future centuries the English investigate how it came to be revealed to them that Spanish Baroque is a grand seigneur among hysterical Italian women and devil-worshipping Anglo-Saxons, and erect a hideous statue to me in the court of Burlington House,Burlington House, a Palladian building on Piccadilly in London; it was expanded in the mid-nineteenth century to house five learned societies and the Royal Academy. they will be wrong. They should put up a statue to you who sent me to Germany—not to me, who only went. But your reward will be Heine’s,Christian Johann Heinrich Heine (1797–1856), a German writer. and you will escape the statue.
I long to go to Spain once more, and shall do so this summer. Please tell me if you have any plans for coming to Europe. If not I rather think I must cross the stormy sea. It is a long time since we have met and there is much to be settled.
P. S. I am sending you my photograph.This photograph has not been identified. When the proofs came I showed them to a man who was taking tea with me, and he gazed upon them and said “The soul’s awakening.” I think you will perforce agree with him, though one never can tell what people who can endure photographs may see in them.
My note appears to have developed into something like a letter. My Baroque raptures made me lose the sense of time and space.
I lie awake at night and think of the house at Salamanca to which I hope to retire when this lease is up.See letter of September 1, 1905. It is fortunate perhaps that I have bound myself to Europe for three years, for had I not done so, I should almost certainly be engaged in desperate struggles with Spanish carpenters and other workmen, trying to induce them to put into repair some run-to-ruin Castilian palace. I feel that I am doomed to live most of my life there, and I am anxious to begin. Now do you not applaud my cautious prudence in forcibly imposing three years of meditation upon myself before I take the plunge? At the bottom that was my real object in settling here—or at least I think it was now and have totally forgotten any other object I may have had. I am in a most garrulous mood, and shall with your leave begin another page.
In the town of Plasencia in Old Castile there was founded some twenty years ago an educational institute. The founder left an income of 40,000 dollars Spanish to be devoted exclusively to the instruction of the youth of Plasencia. He named five executors—the Bishop of the See, and four prominent citizens.
Late one night in April of the year in which the present king was crowned,King Alfonso XIII (1886–1941) was proclaimed king at his birth in 1886; he reigned from 1886 to 1931. When he reached his majority in 1902, he assumed control of the state. His coronation was on May 17, 1902. the editor of “El Païs” socialist newspaper of Madrid, and Laneus, socialist Catalan deputy, arrived at Plasencia and put up at the Inn. Laneus and Fuente (the editor), though it was very late, called for the innkeeper and told him to go instantly to one of the executors of the foundation, and tell him to appear within half an hour. If he seemed unwilling, the innkeeper was to say that he had better come, as the affair might be a serious one for him.
Within half an hour the executor was there. The following conversation took place between him and Laneus.
Laneus: Murderer! Thief! Blackguard! Tremble!
Know that you are lost!
(Executor tries to brave it out:) But what in the name of Heaven do you mean by—
Laneus: It’s no good. Now do me the favour to listen while I read you a document—(he produces from his pocket a copy of the founder’s will, and reads it. Ex. grows pale). Now you miserable misappropriator, what have you done with the trust which a patriot placed in you—you and the other cut-throat poisoners of this town? With an annual income of 40,000 dollars, you have built one miserable school, cost at the outside 5,000 dollars, and you keep one starving schoolmaster there on 3,00 salary. Where is the rest of the money?
Ex.: (teeth chattering with fear) You know that the accounts have been presented in due legal form every year.
Lan.: Yes—we will deduct another 2000 dollars annually for bribing someone with the necessary legal authority to ratify the accounts—but even that leaves you a pretty margin of 30,000 a year. Now, let me tell you what I am going to do. The train starts for Madrid at 5 this morning, at 4 P.M. I shall be in Madrid. At 4:30 I shall be in CortesCortes Generales, the legislature of Spain. and by 5—in under 20 hours—the whole house will know of your villainy.
Ex.: Jesus, Mary and all the Saints! You are going to ruin me? Is there no way of arranging things?
Lan.: Of course there is. Listen, whatever you may do, I leave for Madrid inside of five hours. But—if I receive first 5000 dollars, I shall not expose you. If I do not, I shall expose you. Now take your choice.
(Ex. goes off and throws stones at the windows of the Señor Obispo and the other executors, and comes back within an hour with the money.)
Ex.: Now Sr. Laneus, I hope we shall be good friends (holds out his hand).
Lan.: Friends with you, you blood sucker? Do you suppose I would touch your hand, or your filthy self? Know that Sr. Fuente and myself are about to start on a journey of socialist propaganda in the South, and that your 5000 dollars will only serve the cause which will soon make such scoundrelism as yours as obsolete as the Inquisition. (He and Fuente depart for the station, leaving Ex. wondering how long it will be before they come again.)
Within a month, Laneus and Fuente were holding mass meetings in the South, to which all the anarchists, nihilists, and socialists of Spain flocked. They were being payed [sic] handsomely to do so by the palace, in order to draw the anarchists, nihilists, socialists away from Madrid while the coronation festivities were going on. RT