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SPANISH RAILWAYS AND DILIGENCES.
a journey which, having once taken, he is not likely to forget. With few exceptions the roads in the interior can only be traversed on horseback. They are a succession of holes and ruts, they cross unbridged rivers; they seem to wander aimlessly over hill and valley, and break off in the middle, like a cattle track rather than a highway. All that we read of our English roads in the days of Queen Elizabeth, may be vividly realized in the Spanish roads of to-day.
The traveller in Spain cannot fail to be struck by the contrast between the past and the present. Everywhere he meets with trophies which attest the energy and greatness of the country in former centuries. Three hundred years ago the Spanish monarchy was the most powerful in the world. The sun never set upon her dominions. But for the stubborn resistance of a few Protestants who refused to be coerced, she would have given the law to Europe. Italy, Germany, and the Low Countries were her vassals. The eastern and the western hemisphere poured their wealth into her coffers. Great public works were undertaken worthy of the wealth and power of their projectors. Palaces and cathedrals, convents and halls of learning, arose in stately magnificence over the land. But what their ancestors built, the degenerate descendants are unable even to keep in repair. Some of the noblest edifices of medieval Spain are crumbling into ruins. Wherever we turn we are confronted by the evidences of a glorious past, and of a base and ignoble present.
What has caused this degeneracy? What has made Spain sink from the first to the last place amongst the nations of Europe? Only one reply is possible. The iniquitous Inquisition crushed out all freedom alike of thought and action. The most intelligent and industrious of her population were burned or banished. Moor, Jew, and Protestant indiscriminately, were sentenced to the flames. The dread tribunal had its officers and its dungeons in every town, its spies in every house. No man was safe except by a mute, unquestioning submission. The highest personages in the state were not above its reach; the meanest and poorest peasant was not too obscure for its notice. Beneath this crushing, blighting despotism, all freedom and all courage perished. For three centuries Spain has been suffering the penalties of her slavish submission to Rome. The last few years have seen the power of Rome broken; a violent reaction against the priesthood has set in; defiant infidelity threatens to take the place of blind, bigoted superstition. The transition is natural and common. In proportion as the Spaniards discover how much their country has suffered under the tyranny of the Papacy, is likely to be their tendency to reject all religion, for they have known no religion save that of Rome. After many generations of absolute uniformity of religious profession, Spain is now divided into two hostile camps. On the one hand, there are those who, terrified at the rapid spread of infidelity, cling more blindly and tenaciously than ever to the superstitions of their fathers. These are confronted by great masses who, confounding all religion with superstition
and priestcraft, are beginning to say that there is no God. The evidences of this conflict of opinion meet the traveller everywhere. It is impossible to mix with the people without being impressed by the dangers with which Spain is thus threatened.
A careful examination of the condition of Spanish society during the present year left a strong conviction on the mind of the writer, that the only hope for the country lies in the Gospel. This alone can rescue Spain from the degrading slavery of the past, and yet preserve it from the excesses and licentiousness of an infidel reaction. It can give true liberty, and, at the same time, teach those whom it has emancipated how to use the freedom it has conferred. It has indeed been the fashion to affirm that spiritual and evangelical religion can never take root in Spain, and that the genius of the people requires that religious truth should be embodied in ceremonies and symbolical forms. The experience of the last few months disproves the assumption; there is scarcely a considerable town in Spain in which the gospel is not preached in its plainest and simplest form; and wherever preached, crowds flock to hear the Word. In almost every place the congregations are in excess of any accommodation provided for them. Thousands have thrown off the yoke of Rome, and professed their adherence to Protestantism. As the writer of these pages contrasted the glories of the past with the degradation of the present, as he investigated the causes of that degradation and sought for the remedy, he felt himself forced to the conclusion that, in a sober, rational religious freedom, there is yet hope for Spain. True emancipation can only come through the freedom wherewith Christ makes his people free. To Spain, as to all the world besides, "Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come."