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Royall Tyler to Mildred Barnes, December 5, 1903

Gran Hotel del Comercio de José Cea


Dec. 5th

Dear Mildred.

I rather imagine the address at the top of this sheet will give you a start. Indeed I have so much I want to write to you that I fear it would be wiser to give an outline only and leave the rest to our next meeting. Well—I decided to take the Pyrenees as my ground, and accordingly went to Saint Jean de Luz about 3 days after I wrote you from London. In his Autobiography (3:7), Royall Tyler recalled: “I have never regretted going down [from Oxford] when I did. I only stopped in Paris long enough to gain my mother’s consent to a plan I had formed, and to receive an answer to a telegram I had sent to Mrs. Stuart-Menteath.” I have a friend there, or rather two, a Scot and his wife.The Stuart-Menteaths lived in the village of Ciboure, France, near Saint-Jean-de-Luz in the Pyrenees. He was in the Navy, and now devotes himself exclusively to Geology and his wife is a charming person, with a broad Scotch accent, and a home full of the most lovely things. She speaks French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and all very well and the Scotch accent runs like a golden thread through it all. She also speaks Basque and Polish—imperfectly.Mrs. Stuart-Menteath had made a profound impression on Royall Tyler; he said as much in his Autobiography (2:27), adding: “Her weakness, she always said, was the lust of the eye. She loved painting and works of art, especially such as lurked in antiquity-dealers’ shops. Aita-Beita, a rambling affair in which two old Basque houses run into one, was full of pictures, furniture, pottery, tapestry, of no great value except for a couple of paintings, but which bore interest to their owner’s range of interest, and aroused my curiosity in a way objects failed to do, where the atmosphere was less to my liking.” Her husband knows the Pyrenees well, and I wanted to ask his advice, and also to borrow a revolver from him, so imagine my joy when he decided to come with me.Royall Tyler remembered this differently in his Autobiography (3:7–8), where he recounted that Patrick Stuart-Menteath, who was preparing for a geological expedition in the Pyrenees, asked Tyler to join him. It was on this expedition that Tyler confirmed his life-long fascination with and love for Spain: “I [was] in a sustained extasy. Romance crowded in on every side. . . . I panted for more Spain. . . . And I sucked in Spain through every pore, laboring to pronounce my first Spanish phrases so as to be understood. . . . To know Europe as [Stuart-Menteath] knew it, writing for publication in several different languages . . . struck me as marvellous.” We set forth in the loveliest weather carrying everything on our backs, huge douaniers’ umbrellas in our hands and loaded revolvers in our pockets, sombreros on our heads and scarlet fajas “Sashes.” wound round our waists. We walked over the frontier to Indax for the first night, and oh the scene at the inn! Carabineros, “Police.” smugglers, muleteers and every conceivable thing. I have never had such a time in all my life. We went for 5 days, and passed through Maya, Ervazu, Baigony, Banca, Les Andudes, Burguete, Roncesvalles, Orbaiceta, St. Jean Pied de Port, and home to St. Jean de Luz. The hills are brown, and the wooded ones also now. The trees are chestnut and beech, so the country abounds with wild bears, and we saw a wolf near Burguete. It was dark and raining, and my Scot, who is an aristocrat, and speaks irreproachable English, at last became Scotch. I must explain that the road is but a mule track, and the beech leaves covered it, so in the dark we were in a desperate hole. Add to this brooks, which though noiseless are deep. Crossing the path, into them we walked. My Scot said nothing, but made noises which I will not attempt to reproduce, but which you can imagine if you have ever seen a Scot wet, hungry and out of temper.

The inns are not bad, and the food excellent when one has overcome the oil and garlic. We sat over our coffee (for even labourers in that land have coffee and liqueur after each meal) until 10 P.M. and discussed all the questions. I need not name them. We rose at 6, and saw the sun rise. It rained a good deal, but I really didn’t care much. The mountains were so lovely. One whole day we walked through all brown hills, with the beech leaves covering the ground, all brown—mountains, trees, valleys and all. I thought of you and your Fräulein. This Fräulein (girl) has not been identified. Such a time we had. The people are charming, if they are treated civilly. They all knew my companion, and called him Don Patricio. If you could see him you would perceive the humour of that name.

Our second journey was in another country. We took the train to Zumaya, between Bilbao and San Sebastian, and walked to Ortona, Aspeitia, Loyola, Ascoitia, and Zumanaga—and thence home. At Loyola there is a huge Jesuit College, with 87 Seminarists and about 40 priests. It is of course the birth place of St. Ignatius. Ignatius of Loyola (14911556), the principal founder and the first superior general of the Society of Jesus, whose members are called Jesuits. Did you know he was a Basque? I spent an afternoon in the College, but they were on their good behavior, and would not talk. I suppose they didn’t think it worth while with me, as my garb was something strange and fearful. The church Basilica of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, designed by the Italian architect Carlo Fontana (1634 or 1638–1714) and inaugurated in Azpeitia, Spain, in 1738. is of marble from top to bottom inside—nothing but marble, and hideous. The Inn was near the College, and horrible, bleak cold, and imitation French cookery. All the evening we could hear the inmates singing litanies and there were pictures on all the doors of St. Ignatius with “al demonio, no entres.” “Devil: keep out.”

On the road from Orbaiceta to Zumanaga, we were stopped by a man who asked if there was work at Ortona. You can imagine how pleased I was to be taken for a native peasant. My companion said that as long as one did not dress as an English tourist the people assumed that one was Basque. My Spanish all the while was increasing. Alas I had been obliged to give it up in the summer because of examinations, but it is so easy that one picks it up quickly.

After a short space of such exertion, civilization seems pleasanter than ever before. I was not sorry to return to my hostess’s comfortable house. She is so amusing and well read, we had a splendid time together. She has frightful rheumatism which affects her heart and she may die at any moment, but she never speaks of it and if I ever knew a philosopher she is that one. The doctors say that if she laughs she must expect to die at any moment, and she is always laughing. Every summer she travels, accompanied by her Basque maid, who is a funny little creature, and loves seeing new lands. She goes to Russia, Holland, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Poland and everywhere.

There I was then, with about 260 francs in my pocket, when I suddenly resolved to go to Spain. I am travelling 3rd class, and economizing generally. I went first to Burgos, which is beyond anything gothic I have ever seen. I can’t begin to tell you what there is there. And no tourists. Streets full of Castillians in cloaks and queer dress. Travelling 3rd is uncomfortable and slow, but I have a huge riding blanket which I got for 18 pesetas at Burgos—beauty—and I wrap myself up in it and look at the peasants and hear them sing their old Spanish songs, which are delightful, and different from anything European. Burgos and the surrounding country were under snow, but blue sky and sun. I arrived here at 5 this morning slept till 12 and spent the afternoon in the Cathedral, which I have not been able to see yet. There are two, an old Byzantine-Roman one The original cathedral in Burgos was built in the Spanish Romanesque style. —exquisite, and a new late Gothic and Revival one, Burgos Cathedral, a Gothic structure begun in 1221 and completed in 1567. enormous, and badly decorated later. The old cathedral is built into it now, curse the man who thought of it, and one can only see the inside. But there is enough for weeks there, and then Salamanca is full of every period Byzantine down and the streets are full of peasants in incredible dress. It is pouring with ice cold rain.

Write and let me know if there is any hope of seeing you in the summer.

Yours sincerely

Royall Tyler

I am going to Avila, Escorial, Madrid and Toledo, and more if the money lasts. I am enjoying it more than I ever enjoyed Italy.

Associated Things: Autobiography