Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

the mass of amatory and sentimental tradition with which it was incrusted, and of presenting it in its legitimate brilliancy. Irving believed, too, that the world had forgotten or had failed to realize how stern the conflict was. In the fifteenth century it was regarded as a Holy War. Christian bigot was arrayed against Moslem bigot. Atrocities of the blackest sort were perpetrated and justified in the name of religion. The title-page says that the narrative is taken from the manuscript of one Fray Antonio Agapida. The brother is an imaginary character, a personification of monkish zeal and intolerance. When the slaughter of the infidels has been unusually great, Fray Antonio makes his appearance, like the 'chorus' of a play, and thanks God with much unction. Through this mouthpiece Irving gives ironical voice to that sentiment it is impossible not to feel in contemplating the barbarities of a “holy' war. A few readers were disturbed by the fiction of the old monk. They ought to have liked him. He is an amusing personage and comes too seldom on the stage.

The Life of Mahomet and his Successors has been spoken of as comparatively a failure. If a book which sums up the available knowledge of the time on the subject, which is written in clear, pure English, which is throughout of high interest, in other words, which has solidity, beauty, and a large measure of the literary quality — if such a book is comparatively a failure, one hardly knows what can be the critic's standard of measurement. Irving was not acquainted with Arabic. He drew his materials from Spanish and German sources. Yet it is not too much to say that no better general account of Mahomet and the early caliphs has been written.

VI

SPANISH ROMANCE

THE ALHAMBRA, LEGENDS OF THE CONQUEST

,

OF SPAIN

For three or four months Irving lived in the ancient Moorish palace and fortress known as the Alhambra. In his own phrase he 'succeeded to 'the throne of Boabdil.' The place charmed him beyond all others in the Old World. His craving for antiquity, his love of the exotic, his passion for romance, his delight in day-dreaming were here completely satisfied. He loved the huge pile, so rough and forbidding without, so graceful and attractive within. The splendor of its storied past intoxicated him. He roamed at will through its courts and halls, steeping himself in history and tradition. He was amused at the life of the petty human creatures, nesting bird-like in the crannies and nooks of the vast edifice. To observe their habits, record their superstitious fancies, listen to their tales, sympathize with their ambitions or their sorrows, was occupation enough. The history of the place could be studied in the parchment-clad folios of the Jesuit library. As for the legends, they abounded everywhere. The scattered leaves were then brought together in the volume called Tales of the Albambra.

It is a Spanish arabesque. No book displays to better advantage the wayward charm of Irving's literary genius. Whether recounting old stories of buried Moorish gold and Arabian necromancy, or describing the loves of Manuel and bright-eyed Dolores, or extolling the grace and intelligence of Carmen, he is equally happy. There was a needy and shiftless denizen of the place, one Mateo Ximenes, who captured Irving's heart by describing himself as a son of the Alhambra.' A ribbon-weaver by trade and an idler by choice, he attached himself to the newcomer and refused to be shaken off. If it was impossible to be rid of him, it was equally impossible not to like him. Life was a prolonged holiday for Mateo during Geoffrey Crayon's residence. Whatever obligations he had, of a domestic or a business nature, were joyfully set aside that he might wait upon the visitor. He became Irving's 'prime-minister 'and historiographer-royal,' doing his errands, aiding in his explorations, and between times unfolding his accumulated treasures of legend and tradition. He was flattered by the credence given his stories, and when the reign of el rey Chico the second came to an end, no one lamented more than Mateo, left now to his old brown cloak and ‘his starveling mystery of ribbon-weaving.'

Though not published until after Irving's return to America, The Legends of the Conquest of Spain is a part of the harvest of this same period. The book describes the decline of the Gothic power under Witiza and Roderick, the treason of Count Julian, the coming of the Arabians under Taric and Muza, and the downfall of Christian supremacy in the Spanish peninsula. Irving was a magician in handling words, and this volume is rich in proof of it. Here may be found passages of the utmost brilliancy, such as the description of Roderick's assault upon the necromantic tower of Hercules, and the opening of the golden casket.

The Legends serves a double purpose. As a book of entertainment pure and simple it is unsurpassed. It is also a spur to the reader to make his way into wider fields, and to learn yet more of that people whose history could give rise to these beautiful illustrations of chivalry and courage.

VII

AMERICAN HISTORY AND TRAVEL

A TOUR ON THE PRAIRIES, ASTORIA, LIFE OF

WASHINGTON

The list of Irving's writings between 1835 and 1855 comprises eight titles. Two of these books have been commented on. The others may be despatched in a paragraph, as the old reviewers

used to say

Abbotsford and Newstead Abbey is an aftermath of the English harvest of impressions and experiences. The Life of Goldsmith, based originally on Prior's useful but heavy work, and rewritten when Forster's book appeared, is accounted one of the most graceful of literary biographies. Wolfert's Roost is a medley of delightful papers on birds, Indians, old Dutch villages, and modern American adventurers, together with a handful of Spanish stories and legends.

There is a group of three books dealing with American frontier life and western exploration. The first of these, A Tour on the Prairies, shows how readily the trained man of letters can turn his hand to any subject. Who would have thought that the prose poet of the Alhambra was also able to do justice to the trapper and the Pawnee? Astoria (the first draft of which was made by

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »