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THE LONJA OF SEVILLE.
BY THE HON. R. DUNDAS MURRAY (ELIBANK.)
THE Lonja, or Exchange of Seville, though boasting of no high antiquity, ranks not the least among the many relics of art to be met with in every quarter of that time-honoured city. Its site is but a few paces distant from the cathedral; so close, indeed, that the lofty outlines of the latter overshadow its own severer proportions, and render them less striking than they really are. Still, in spite of this disadvantage, it tells, with an air of noble simplicity, of the far-reaching hopes of its founders. It was here that the discoveries of Columbus were to be turned to account; here the wealth of the Indies' was to be stored up, and to be parted among the merchants from strange lands who were to resort hither, and be witnesses to the fame and greatness of the Spanish Empire. Happily for such views, it was the fortune of Spain to possess an architect every way capable of doing justice to them." The Lonja is the work of Juan de Herrera, one of the most accomplished men of his times, and no mean proficient in his art, as the Escurial, and many other edifices, may testify. His favourite style, the Italian, which indeed he was the first to introduce into his native country, is that in which he has chosen to rear this building, unquestionably one of the best specimens of his genius. Its shape is that of a massive square, the design of which approaches almost to plainness, there being neither columns, nor other architectural details, to clothe or otherwise ornament the exterior. On each of its four sides a lower and upper tier of windows stretch away in long lines; and, as if the light they admitted was alone worthy of the distinction, around these its channels are some ornaments gathered, though with a sparing hand. Scanty as they are, however, they serve to relieve the general air which everywhere else is that of quiet and solid strength.
Passing into the interior, we find ourselves in a spacious court, the solitary fountain in the centre of which yet murmurs as it used to do in the days of Philip the Second. Round the court runs an arcade, supported by square pillars, and especially devised as a shelter against inclement weather. Not that inclement weather includes only the severities of winter; on the contrary, the dog-days in Seville are far more inclement, certainly far less tolerable than the heavy winter rains; and it seems, therefore, that to both of these evils the architect addressed himself when he constructed so choice a retreat as this, where hundreds might assemble without incommoding each other, and at the same time be secured from the extremes of either season.
From the basement story a wide staircase leads to a suite of apartments above. As we ascend we find ourselves in the midst of a wealth and luxury seen in no other part of the edifice. The broad steps underfoot, the heavy balustrades-which from the easiness of the ascent seldom feel the weight of a hand, are all of beautiful red marble, brought from the Sierra de Moron. Even the walls, to the height of some feet from the 39
ground, are lined with the same precious material, not simply smooth, so as to form a glossy coating, but wrought into a variety of designs, having all the effect of richly embossed work. Few kingly residences can boast of an approach to the presence of royalty more imposing than this staircase, the services of which at no time aspired to an office more noble than that of conveying merchants and their clerks from one story to another.
To what purposes the upper story had been originally applied it is now difficult to say, for it is long since it has been converted into a repository of national archives. Those, however, who effected such a change appear to have owned the gift so rare in Spain of fashioning their work by the model of the parent design. Two long galleries embrace as many sides of the quadrangle, and with their variegated marble floors, their tall mahogany presses darkening the walls, and their doors and windowshutters of the same rich wood, form a gloomy, though fitting receptacle for the narratives of still gloomier deeds. What these unfold seldom sees the light,-for few Spaniards interest themselves in their country's history, and to a passing stranger they are inaccessible, except by a special order from Madrid. Still it is something, through the trellis work which guards them, to look upon these manuscripts, and to know that upon them runs the handwriting of such men as Columbus, Pizarro, and Cortez. All that we have read regarding their trials and successes takes its source from the faded ink that scarcely blackens the paper before us. The hands that shed that ink are the hands of those who first shouted the Castilian war-cry on the shores of an unknown world, and won empires for their masters. Surely, then, as we touch the faint characters in which they are traced the one his sufferings and glories, and the others their bloody triumphs, surely there is no one who will not then feel as if he stood in the presence of the departed great. Possibly there may be folly in this feeling, but one is apt to fancy that where their achievements lie recorded, there would the mighty dead love to linger, and set their watch.
Of the high hopes which Seville in these days cherished, and of their transient fulfilment, this building is a faithful memorial. For some time it bore itself proudly, while the wealth of the west was gathered with pain and danger. No sooner, however, were whole nations toiling at the mines than the caravels and pinnaces of the primitive adventurers rose into stately galleons, for whom the Guadalquivir became too shallow; then commenced the decay of Seville as sudden as its short lived prosperity. The commerce with the colonies, and everything connected with it, moved down to Sanlucar de Barrameda, at the mouth of the river; whence, by means of small craft, a communication was kept up with the interior. But that port had its perils in the shape of a treacherous bar, then and now the grave of many a vessel. The Spanish government was therefore induced by repeated losses to search for a safer harbour for its navies, and such a one was found under the walls of Cadiz, whose noble bay stood invitingly open to every sail. In spite of much opposition, the treasureships were ordered to bear away for that city,-a change that necessarily sealed the fate of Seville as a commercial town. In that fate its Lonja, of course, participated. It is deserted by all who live by traffic; the steps that lead to its doors are broken and grass-grown, and seldom are they touched by the feet of any but a few officials connected with the archives, who slumber peacefully at their labours upstairs. If any other step re
sounds in its silent halls, it is that of the traveller, who wanders alone where once there were stirring scenes of life and business. Yet there are times when it awakes to a spectacle as foreign to its original and present character as night is to day. In place of stillness, all then is tumult and movement; everything that is strange and fantastic comes and departs unquestioned; and if all tales be true, the incidents that then occur bid fair to rival the most extraordinary chapters in the romance of real life. On one of these occasions not many years ago, a scene took place, so novel, and withal so singular, even amid scenes where every actor "puts on the trick of singularity," that no apology is necessary for giving it a place here.
It was at that giddy season when the carnival holds its sway over light hearts. Of such it is needless to say, that in this city of sunny skies there are thousands, the property of as many inhabitants, to whom the King of Terrors would be less formidable than the idea of not adding their week of madness to the follies of the year. As may be expected, they manage pretty well to turn the sober city into a kind of pantomime. During the hours of light, the streets swarm with gay-looking figures in every costume under the sun, besides many more upon whom that luminary never shone. Their vocation is to shout, laugh, and chatter, to their heart's content, and persecute in a small way every one who promises to make a good victim. Everywhere is heard their laughing adios: the pedestrians hurl it from the streets up to the windows, whose occupants are generally dark-eyed senoritas. These being of unforgiving tempers, send back the salutation, and thus is commenced a smart skirmish of jests, in which is expended a great quantity of smiles on both sides. As evening draws on, the streets return to their usual state of repose. As for the crowds that gave them life, they are retiring to their homes, not to terminate their sports there, but after the lapse of a few hours to re-appear within the walls of the Lonja.
Let us join, therefore, in the living stream that towards midnight rolls on in the direction of that edifice. Our way lies by the walls and buttresses of its giant neighbour, the cathedral; upon emerging from the holy precincts of which we stand upon the threshold of the once favoured hall of merchants. From its open door a flood of light is thrown upon the gloomy street and the crowds pressing for admittance, but that excepted, nothing prepares the eye for the spectacle that awaits it within; the windows are cold and dark as ever, and the shadows of night hang undisturbed upon them as upon every other part of the building. Not so, however, in the interior. There clusters of lamps shed a broad glare of light from every pillar, prolonging the reign of noontide wherever they are dispersed. Their rays fall upon grotesque figures, and glance from the marble beneath their feet up to the awning which is stretched across the court so as to exclude the heavy dews. Music, too, resounds from every quarter, while hundreds, or rather thousands of dancers are beating time to its measure. To the dancers the arcades are appropriated by public notice; on one side a placard intimates that the ground below is sacred to Escocesas; while on the other, a similar announcement warns away all those whom the schoolmaster hath not chastised into a knowledge of mazurkas. It is in vain, however, to give even a faint idea of the noisy tumult that makes the central court its own. All that Seville can furnish of tinsel finery, of helmets and tin breast-plates, turbans and Turkish garments, is here jumbled together. Of course
there is confusion worse confounded, with a vengeance, but that is nothing to the hubbub that accompanies it. The better to escape detection, every masker speaks in a feigned tone, knowing that all disguise is in vain, if his voice remains to betray him. Accordingly, the only sounds to be heard are salutations pitched in a shrill falsetto, and conversations maintained in the same discordant key. If any one breaks into a laugh, it rises into a shriek so painful to the ear as to make us doubt whether we are not listening to the voice of some spirit of evil omen. Add to this, the motionless lips whence these sounds issue, and the distorted features of the masks themselves, which bear the human face divine painted in every variety of caricature, and the scene thus presented to the spectator is one of the most unnatural and startling that fancy can picture.
So, at least, thought Don Manuel Breton, as he wandered alone through the crowd. To him, however, the scene was beginning to lose its novelty. For the first half hour he had been sufficiently entertained by watching the masks, and enjoying the unconscious mistakes into which they fell by forgetting their assumed characters. He had detected a couple of Turks in the act of pledging each other in wine without fear of the Prophet, and it wiled away some ten minutes to study the movements of a North American savage, who wore green spectacles, and danced quadrilles to perfection. Nevertheless his interest as a mere spectator was rapidly cooling, and he was preparing to quit the veiled throng, when his steps were arrested by the appearance of a figure which instantly engrossed his undivided attention. It was that of a lady who, like himself, seemed rather a spectator than a partaker in the amusements of the evening. In deference, however, to the universal custom, she wore a mask, and was simply but elegantly attired in the costume of a Serranita or mountaineer. The dress selected was one admirably adapted to show off her fine form to the greatest advantage. Its tightly fitting vest concealed none of the proportions of the bust, while the short skirts disclosed a foot and ankle that a sculptor would have prized for a model.
As she passed close to him, leaning upon the arm of a tall cavalier, it was the thought of Don Manuel, that never among his countrywomen— though grace be the companion of their steps-had he beheld a foot fall so lightly and so freely.
The pair thus introduced to us sauntered carelessly from group to group, addressing themselves to none, but replying with great good humour whenever some inquisitive masker held them at bay. At a little distance followed our hero; who, devoured by an uncontrollable interest in their proceedings, found himself treading in their footsteps as their shadow. They paused at length upon reaching a spot too remote from the laugh and the jest to have many occupants. Here, after conversing for a few moments in low tones, they separated; the cavalier hastily withdrawing, while his companion retired to a seat commanding a view of the dancers. Now was the moment for opening an acquaintance with the fair stranger, for so unexpected an opportunity might never occur again. Availing himself, therefore, of the licence denied to none at such seasons, Don Manuel hesitated not to approach and accost her.
Thou wilt permit me to sit beside thee, Serranita?'
With much pleasure,' she replied, though I am surprised that for me thou leavest the beauties in the saloon. Thou knowest me, perchance?'
There are few of my acquaintances whom I cannot strip of their closest disguise, and thou art not one of these. Wilt thou be pleased then to remove that envious mask, since neither thou nor I have secrets to penetrate ?'
It is not every one who can defy with impunity the world's gaze as thou dost,' was the reply of the unknown.
'Thanks, gracious Serranita,' said our hero. Then thou knowest me?'
'Yes, by sight. They tell me thou art a poet. Wilt thou make me some verses?'
'Give me a theme,' said Don Manuel, rising into the enthusiastic; 'or stay, let that theme be the charms thy mask conceals, and I ask but one glance to translate them into words.'
'What! art thou a poet, and must needs consult thy eyes in order to spur thy fancy. Why, the muse thy tribe adores is, according to them, arrayed in every excellence under the sun, and yet I'll engage that not one of them has ever seen her across the street, far less face to face. Canst thou not, then, do the same for me, though thou seest me not. But, believe me, my interest and thine are opposed to the gratification of thy wishes. As long as I remain thus shrouded, I am sure of hearing flattering phrases and smooth speeches to which I am not always accustomed; but take away this friendly shade,' she said, pointing to her mask, and then farewell to thy illusion and mine.'
Serranita, this will not persuade me that anything but modesty prevents thee from unmasking. Thou ugly! I would stake my life to the contrary. Yet there is one reason why I should be sorry to see thee unmasked.'
'What is it?'
'I should be compelled to renounce the affectionate tuteo that now passes between us. How delightful to address thee in the style of the most intimate friends, as a brother, or a lover!'
And were I so indiscreet,' said the Serranita, 'as to reveal myself, thou wouldst scarce have time to falter out a freezing á los pies de usted. Wilt thou be more indulgent than the rest of mankind, to whom ugliness is the greatest crime of a woman?'
Oh! I am quite of another disposition,' was his reply. I am not one of those who fly from an ugly woman as from a raging lion; and believe me, wert thou as odious or frightful as I believe thee to be the reverse, I should not worship thee the less. Could I forget the melody of thy voice, or the sweetness of thy manner, or the grace that reigns in thy movements-could I forget these? Impossible. But where is the ugliness with which thou wouldst terrify me? I do not see it in the elegance of thy shape, or in the beauty of thy hand. Surely it does not reside in that fairy-like foot, or those flashing eyes, still less in the dark hair that clusters round thy snowy throat, or in the smile that hangs on thy lips; for these also have I seen, in spite of thy mask.'
'Nevertheless, be assured that thou wilt be horror-struck if I discover myself.'
That is impossible, Serranita, for I have seen every featureno,' he said, checking himself, 'the nose is the only one I have not