Mexico, California and Arizona/Chapter 34
THE REVIVAL OF BULLFIGHTING.
I had spent the evening before at the house of a Spanish family of standing, and the hostess had defended the sport. She was a lady of a round, smiling countenance, corresponding to an amiable, easy-going character, from which no such savagery would have been expected.
"The animals have to be killed some time or other," she said, "and why not this way as well as another? You Norte Americanos yourselves shoot pigeons, don't you, and are very well satisfied when you can go hunting and get a good bagful of game? Besides, the sport sets the men a good example of courage."
Her argument did not strike me as at all convincing. It had a very feminine ring, and begged the main question; and yet even this is the best defence I recollect to have heard of a practice which has very lately become the leading social phenomenon of Mexico.
"Shall you go to-morrow?" I asked.
"We like to pasear (to take the air) occasionally on Sundays, and Cuatitlan is very accessible," she replied.
Let me go back a little more at length to that first bull-fight of mine at Cuatitlan. What an artful tendency is this of human nature to so often want to see a thing "just once," even when we are perfectly certain we can-
It was Sunday. No one at all familiar with the subject requires it to be stated, for Sunday or a saint's feast is the great and peculiar occasion for the sport. It is the only day on which its ardent patrons have the leisure to devote themselves to it in thorough-going style. Exhibitions have been tried on Mondays, and also in the evening by electric light, but these have met with only small success.
A little special train of tram-cars, drawn by mules, deposited us at Cuatitlan at half-past three in the afternoon, the usual hour for beginning.
The sport was forbidden by law in the Federal District, the domain corresponding to the District of Columbia with us; but it was said that Señor Delfin Sanchez, who owned the railway, had much to do with encouraging it at Cuatitlan, by way of making the more business for his road.
The plaza de toros, or bull-ring, was a great elliptical edifice of wood, commonly built, but impressive within by its size and arrangement. The main body of seats rose in a sloping bank, like those at the circus, from a barrier in front to a series of private boxes, the lumbreras. Columns wound with red and white draperies, with an appearance like that of barbers' poles, separated the boxes. The cornice above them was studded with wooden urns. The whole was without a roof of any kind, and over it
you looked up to the lovely, serene blue sky, untroubled by even a cloud. The palisade, or barrier, below was draped with the national colors, red, white, and green, in broad stripes entirely around the arena.
It is needless to repeat the old division of the open-air theatre into two portions, that of the sun and that of the shade, for such has been the fashion of open-air theatres from the Roman Colosseum down to the New York Polo Grounds. The seats in the sun are naturally cheaper than the others. They are the most densely occupied, and it is from this part of the auditorium that the greatest enthusiasm, the chief fury of applause or disapproval, is to be looked for.
The manager of the spectacle, from his tribune in the centre of one of the long sides, just above the gate reserved for the bulls, gave the signal to begin. A procession entered, and three or four cavaliers on horseback, with tall lances, posted themselves about the barriers, recalling mediæval tournaments. A number of men on foot, the chulos with pink cloaks to attract the attention of the bull, scattered themselves about the arena. The performers were in gorgeous dresses, and all except the horsemen, the picaderos, who had their legs defended by sheet-iron coverings against the fierce onsets of the bulls, wore short breeches and silk stockings. The barrier was as high as the heads of the men on horseback, and a space intervened between it and the first row of spectators, so that no harm could come to the latter through the accidents of the fray.
A flourish of brass instruments, and forth came bull number one. He was dun-colored, large, powerful, and active, but could not rightly be called blood-thirsty or terrible. He did not begin pawing the ground for gore according to received traditions; nevertheless, he was very
mettlesome and prepared to devote all his attention to anything that might seem to offend. If you had met him crossing an open field in the country, for instance, you would have got over the nearest fence with the greatest possible celerity. He was not bad, but simply an impulsive animal without experience of the world. A type of all his class, he began wrong and went on to worse; he blundered from one fatal error to another through pure hot-headedness and failure to reason till he came to a violent end.
One of the chulos first attracts his notice by waving a cloak, and the bull makes a dive for him. The chulo gets out of the way, and there sits a picador.
"Ah, it is you, my friend, is it?" the bull seems to say. "Well, look out for yourself; here's one for your nob."
He lowers his horns and makes a charge. The picador evades him. He makes another charge; the picador wounds him deftly with his lance, and again escapes.
"Bueno (good), picador" cries the Sol, the sunny side. The bull takes after him and inserts a horn in the flank of the horse. "Bueno, toro!" cries the Sol, impartially.
The chulos divert his attention with their waving cloaks, as their custom is when any one is in danger, and a second round begins.
This time perhaps the picador, either the same or another, stands firm and meets the shock. His lance penetrates the attacking animal, and its cruel head can be seen sliding along the ribs beneath the hide. The bull, ignorant of what is hurting him, persists, and makes every effort to get near his persecutor. He reaches the horse with a horn. The horse's breast is protected by a heavy leather frontlet, or apron, but he gets his horn under this. There is a pushing and tussling match that recalls a foot-
ball scrimmage of the most approved sort. The bull cannot endure the increasing pain, he backs out and extricates himself. Another round is over. The hard-pressed horseman has kept his seat and his lance, to the great delight of the audience, and rides off to a flourish of trumpets. Even the Sombra, the shady side, approves of this.
But what do I see? What mysterious filament steals down the nigh fore-leg of the poor steed? It is not blood from the merciless spurring of his flanks, it is a life-stream from the wound under his chest; he cannot last much longer.
Accordingly he is brought again to the onset, and finally sacrificed. The bull thrusts both prongs of his formidable brow fairly into the horse's side, lifting him momentarily from the ground; his entrails hang out; he falls; his rider leaps lightly off and strips saddle and trappings from him. A lasso is thrown, and a team of gayly caparisoned mules, coming out from a gate, make fast to the body and hastily drag it away.
The bull has tasted blood, and is now savage without contradiction. In the next round perhaps he disembowels a horse, unseats the rider, and chases him to the barrier. The steed does not die at once, but careers wildly around the ring till caught by the lassoers. The arena is full of dust and turmoil; everything flies before the horned enemy, his eye almost emitting lurid sparks, and his long tail streaming in the air. All the picadors have probed him deeply and often, and where their lances have been the dark blood is welling out after them.
But by this time our toro has learned a certain amount of logic; he begins to consider how little he gains in all this fierce fight and chase. He is weakened by his wounds and sensible of their pain. He now stands and meditates before making his dashes, and even inclines to let some of his affronts go unavenged.
Now is the time for the banderilleros. These are a new group of participants, beautifully dressed, light, deft, and swift on their feet. Their business is to torment the bull by thrusting into him long barbed darts, with streamers, or decoration of gay-colored tissue-papers. I look at a pink and gilt rose from one of the banderillas—so these darts are called—lying before me now as I write.
The banderillas must be planted in pairs. This is usually done by holding one in each hand, though the teeth also are sometimes called into play. Once it was sufficient to place the pair on the same side, but now it is required that one shall be placed on each side; the most glorious spot is the shoulder on either side the spinal column. As this can only be done by directly facing the bull, and waiting for the moment when he lowers his head to toss you, taking your chances to escape as best you may, the success of the feat seems almost a miracle in every instance. The banderillero has no weapons, and must rely upon his own nimble wits for his safety. And he must place his pair also within three minutes, under pain of disgrace.
The sting of these darts arouses the flagging energies of the bull anew; again the ring becomes a scene of dust and fury. The banderilleros do a new mischief at every turn; they run alongside the toro from behind, and in passing even give his tail a dexterous twist. They add the last insult to the injury by the salto de la garrocha.
The garrocha is a long lance. It is set on the ground at the very nose of the bull as he approaches in full ca- reer, and used like a pole to vault completely over him, as one vaults a stream. It need not be explained that this must be done with lightning speed, for, with an instant's delay, the lance may be struck, and the acrobat come to most serious harm. Among others injured in this feat, the case is lately cited of one Spanish banderillero who, though he recovered from his severe wound, fell into hypochondria and committed suicide.
Our bull tires of pursuing this class of persecutors also. Then the great moment arrives for the espada, the slayer with the sword. He is the fine flower and pink of perfection of the whole art.
The band of bull-fighters, or cuadrilla, will consist of a couple of espadas, who relieve each other in turn, from four to six banderilleros, as many picadores, and chulos and lassoers in proportion. The band goes about giving exhibitions—trabajando (literally "working"), the expression is—from place to place. The espada. The espada and other principal performas are generally much better known by a nickname, derived from their place of birth, or some individual pecularity, than by their own names. Such a paragraph as the following gives an idea of the announcements that continually appear in the press:
"Francisco Gomez, "El Chiclanero," will work during the coming season at Guadalajara. His band consists of the best experts. El Chiclanero has a strong fancy for Guadalajara and the liking (simpatia) with which he regards it leads him to work his band in the town, even at the expense of engagements more profitable to himself elsewhere. The Guadalajaran public, on the other hand, warmly returns the predilection of this accomplished and sympathetic (simpático) bull-fighter."
But the bull is now at bay, sullen, terrible, and in the most dangerous of all tempers. The espada is not afraid; he steps forward to begin the final scene of the drama with the airy grace of a dancing-master. He is dressed in cherry and silver, and his hair is done in a queue, beneath a round black head-piece peculiar to the profession. In one hand he carries a blood-red cloak, the traditional muleta, and in the other a naked sword.
The killing is a work of art; it must not be done in any vulgar way. The matador flaunts his red cloak, invites the bull near it, holds it out to him draped on a stick, spreads it and draws it along on the ground with both hands, like a clerk exhibiting to a patron some new thing in ornamental fabrics. The grim animal, raging with the memory of all his wrongs, his disappointment, his wounds, accepts the invitation. Then the keen rapier flashes like lightning and seeks a vital part. Fatal simplicity, fatal ignorance! Surely there are morals in plenty to be drawn from a bull-fight. The victim thinks the red scarf the cause of all his troubles. It is expected that the accomplished espada will remain pretty firm on his feet and not caper about a great deal. He must move chiefly with his arms and body. He must wound but little; at this stage there must be no clumsy butchery.
The fine play continues. Suddenly the blade touches a fatal spot, which was the object of all the manœuvres—the junction of the neck and spinal column. The stalwart bull takes a startled, half-incredulous look, his eye dims, he staggers, falls upon his knees, half rises again like a dying gladiator, sways his head from side to side, then falls prone and supine, in all his great bulk, along the ground. The espada, with a fine air of conscious merit, makes his bow, there are shouts, shrieks, whistlings, and catcalls of delight. A citizen of the lower orders, in a much beribboned sombrero, upon a post in front of the first row of seats, roars loud enough to drown the band.
"Bell-o! (beautiful!) "bell-is-si-mo!" (beautiful to the last degree!).
Others throw their hats into the ring. I don't quite recollect whether they get them out again or not. The rich, in moments of great impulse, confer more substantial favors; they throw money, valuables, and flowers as these are thrown to prima donnas. The other day, at Aranjuez, in Spain, the Marquis of Sandoal was so much pleased with the delicate attention of the Espada Felipe in dedicating to him the killing of the third bull, that he sent him a hundred dollars and a box of fine Havana cigars. Favorite espadas are, traditionally, recipients of great honors and emoluments. There are those who wear diamond studs and pearl-embroidered jackets in the ring; and three hundred dollars is an ordinary compensation for one Sunday's work.
I glanced back over my shoulder. There was my friend the señora, with the same amiable smile. Her daughters, hardly more than school-girls, willowy Soledad and plump Ysabel, sat beside her, their chins resting on their hands, with that half-absent well-governed air characteristic of very young Mexican señoritas. It is doubtful if there had been an oh! or an ay! of sympathy among them all. Like the heroine of one of the little poems lately—for poets too are inspired by the subject—they might have replied to me at most, had I asked them how it pleased them :
"Seré—me contesto—cruel y salvaje,
Pero, á decir verdad, me he divertdio.
Me traeras a la proximo corrida?"
["'It was,' she answered me, 'cruel and savage,
But, to say truth, I have been diverted.
Will you take me to the next one?'"]
The husband and father of the family, for his part, was
there without any pretence that he wanted to pasear, but simply and squarely because he liked it. He, too, sat with
an impassive look, under which, however, his enjoyment might be detected.
Meantime the life of the bull, though far past praying for, was not wholly extinct, and so some understrappers fell upon him and despatched him with their poniards. Horsemen lassoed the carcass by the head and legs; again the gayly caparisoned mules came prancing in, and they dragged it off, spinning through the dust, to the sound of lively music.
Our second victim was a young black bull, with a knot of bright ribbon on his horn. He came in, equally unconscious, upon the heels of his dead predecessor. In the first onset he gored a horse so terribly that, though the latter kept its feet, there was no hope that it could live more than a few minutes. His rider, therefore, to make the most of it as an exhibition, rode rapidly round the ring till it dropped, and one could plainly hear the stream of blood as it ran.
"Pobre!" (poor thing!) murmured an Indian woman near me, in involuntary tenderness.
The horses, it should be explained, are thoroughly blind-folded, or they could never be brought to bear these terrible ordeals. They are poor creatures, a sort of crow-bait stock, fed up just sufficiently to carry them through the day on which they are deliberately sacrificed. Of all the participants in the tragic show, these Rozinantes have the worst of it, for even the bull, badgered and slain though he be, is not without a sort of grandeur in his fate; but these poor hacks recall the privates fallen in battle—unknown, hardly even counted, with no share in the bulletins and the glory.
Bull three, so far from being fierce, might even be called playful. This disposition, adding to the cruelty of the fate that afterwards overtakes them, is often to be noticed; they frequently have almost the sportiveness of calves. Eventually, however, this one proved more "game" than any other of the afternoon. For one episode, he drove a picador and his horse fairly up against the barrier and never let them go till he had gored the horse to death. The man sustained himself helplessly by holding to the top of the barrier, and lost his lance, but was lucky enough to escape with his life, though not without severe bruises.
The finishing-stroke was given this animal by a mounted matador, a somewhat unusual feature.
The fourth bull was of a peaceable disposition, and would not fight at all, but fairly turned his back on the whole proceedings. He was driven from the ring with ignominy. What hisses, what jeers greeted this unworthy beast who would not lend himself to be butchered to make a Mexican holiday! The number was not diminished, however, for he was immediately replaced by another, of whom I can say nothing, except that his color was very dark; nor do I remember even so much of the next and final one that followed him. To the imposing mass of the fine, half-ruined renaissance church, plainly in sight above the amphitheatre, with its gray tower and large dome faced with colored tiles, I looked up from time to time during the carnage, and listened to the chimes of its sweet old bells with a keen sense of the contrast.
Three horses, with the five bulls, were killed that day, a very fair matter for Mexico; but not much, it seems, for Spain, where apparently the bulls kill more in proportion; for I learn that one Sunday in October last ten horses were killed at San Fernando, eighteen at Valencia, and
twenty at Barcelona, all in single corridas, or exhibitions, at those places respectively.
After this we hastened to catch our train. As I went, I noticed, in the regions below, a slaughter-house as an adjunct of the arena. My amiable señora was right; the bulls had to be killed some time, and we had only been witnessing the work of the shambles dramatized, as it were. The reflection occurs, in passing, why, if it be so rare an amusement, should not the system be extended to the minor animals as well? Some very good enjoyment might, no doubt, be got out of the artfully prolonged death-struggles of calves, sheep, and swine, which might be committed to the hands of the youth; while children could make a beginning upon rabbits and fowls, for example.
Whoever would explain to himself this recent craze in Mexico must not leave out of account what is taking place in Spain. D'Amicis told us, as early as 1873, that bull-fighting showed no signs of abatement there, but was even on the increase; and—with the same blood and general traditions—whatever is greatly in vogue in the mother-country must make itself felt sooner or later in her ex-colony. We know something of what it is to be troubled by Anglomania ourselves.
As to the cause in old Spain, perhaps it is the uncertain tenure of a monarchy tottering to its fall, and desirous to distract the people with the ancient Roman remedy of "bread and games." I sometimes wonder, too, if its restoration in Mexico be not some little connected with the personal ambition and schemes for continued hold upon power of Don Porfirio Diaz, the semi-dictator. Or is it, again—since there have been no revolutions worthy of the
name in the unprecedented period of ten years—only a natural sort of outlet for the blood-thirstiness that has till now found its vent in war?
I have no wish to asperse a people who possess many charming and lovable qualities; but Americans must certainly find something essential lacking in those who can sit by and draw a wanton pleasure from a view of the sufferings of any living creature. They connect it with the shooting of prisoners, and many like cruelties they have heard of in the revolutions, and some will say, with a shrug,
"Surely it is no more than we might have expected."
There are now not less than five flourishing bull-rings in the metropolis—one of them, it may be added, owned by an American, who has been noted in other fields for benevolent works. The diversion has become so established a feature of Mexican life that a volume might easily be filled with peculiar incidents connected with it. It cannot really be said that it is fashionable, though so much in vogue. The best people go, much as they might have done here to the old "Black Crook," under protest, feeling that it is something to be rather ashamed—of except—when Mazzantini comes, the great Mazzantini! and then all go in a mass. The tickets then sell as high as ten dollars, against a dollar and a dollar and a half at ordinary times. Mazzantini is the Patti or Brignoli of the art, the pet of two hemispheres. He comes over from Spain—stopping at Cuba on the way once—or perhaps twice a year, for a brief season. He is a handsome man, dark, without beard after—the general mode of the bull-fighters and lithe and slender of frame. He has a fine subtle way of smiling, with half-closed eyes—a smile that somehow suggests the keen edge of his sword. Edgar
Saltus has introduced this real Mazzantini into his "Mr. Incoul's Misadventure," in which occurs a description of a bull-fight in the mother-country.
The great Mazzantini is Italian on his father's side and Spanish on his mother's. He was born at Elgoibar, in Spain, in 1856, educated partly at Bilbao, and afterwards at Rome, where his family went to reside. He returned to Spain, and, when a little more than fourteen, held some minor clerical post under the chief equerry of the King. It is interesting to note that superior education seems to tell even in bull-fighting, as it can probably be maintained it does in any and all occupations, no matter how little demand they at first sight would seem to make upon it. Old Don Quixote was right in fancying his intellectual powers would have stood him in good stead in the remotest field in which he might have chosen to apply them.
"I assure thee, niece," we all recollect him saying, "that were not my whole soul engrossed by the arduous duties of chivalry, there is not a curious art I would not acquire—particularly that of making bird-cages and tooth-picks."
Mazzantini is an educated man, and there are probably very few of them in his peculiar calling. He left his clerkship to continue his studies, and took the degree of bachelor of arts, I do not recollect at what university; but perhaps it was even at Salamanca, beyond which, as we know, no further bachelorizing is possible. When this was over, he entered the telegraphic bureau of the Spanish Southern Railway, where he became a chief of station. It was at this time, through dint of seeing so many of the spectacles going on about him, that he acquired his taste, his veritable passion, for bull-fighting. He began to take part in the novilladas a kind of amateur exhibitions, and from the first distinguished himself among his companions by his skill and valor.
In course of time he was drafted back to the office of the Minister of the Interior at Madrid. His passion was so fully confirmed that he begged and obtained permission to be absent from his desk on Mondays, alleging very important private business. What was the surprise of the office on learning that this private business was nothing else than to take part, as a leading performer, in the regular novilladas! The Minister promptly notified him that he must be either an employé of the bureau or a bull fighter, but couldn't be both. Mazzantini just as promptly handed in his resignation, saying that all his inclinations called him to the arena. We have seen that this renunciation or martyrdom was more nobly rewarded than if it had been in a higher cause. In a single benefit at Havana he has gained as much as twenty thousand dollars, besides magnificent presents. He receives gold medals and crowns, he is carried on men's shoulders, he is the object of grand ovations on arriving and on leaving port, and feeling sonnets are addressed to him by rising and even by risen poets.
"O splendid gladiator!" cries the latest of those I have read on this theme—"O son of Spain! thou who, enclosed within the narrow arena, 'mid the bulls, executest heroic feat after heroic feat! Rustic bard of the mountains I, merely one of the hundred thousand throats that hoarsely acclaim thy arrival from a foreign shore. Disciple thou of Montes and Delgado, worthy peer of Cúchares and Frascuelo, thou givest to thy art an unwonted brilliancy. Pray Heaven thou meet not on our soil the tragic end of Pepe-Hillo!"
Now, Pepe-Hillo—but as I know no more of him than the context supplies, let Pepe-Hillo go. I wish to pause a little here, to decide that it really is a rather unjust world after all. Even these poor pages of mine must needs be of more service and value to humanity than one of Mazzantini's performances, and yet I assure the reader it is but rarely that I get twenty thousand dollars for a whole chapter.
The two principal rings are respectively those of the Paseo, on the fine avenue leading to Chapultepec, and that of Colon, in the suburb of La Coloñia. The city rings are generally one story higher than those in the country. The one lately finished for Ponciano Diaz cost about six thousand dollars. They hold from three to eight thousand people—which still leaves something to be attained, it will be seen, for we read of one at Murcia, in Spain, holding eighteen thousand. Fancy these eighteen thousand people, all as one man, glowing and thrilling over the sufferings of an unfortunate animal. Surely this can be no school of the manly virtues, the higher achievements of civilization.
On great occasions the bulls have individual names. The names do not incline to be of a complimentary sort. We are at the Plaza del Paseo, for instance. First enters "Porfiriado," "a dappled chestnut," partridge-eyed, "with fine markings, and front powerfully armed." "Porfiriado" stands for rogue or rascal. He is followed by "Bellaco," the obstinate; next comes "Alacran," the scorpion; the fourth is "Alicante," poison snake.
It is an insult in Mexico to give the name of a human being to an animal, and no little rage and disturbance were caused lately by a fancy that some people discovered a personal intent in the titles of two of the bulls at the Plaza de Colon. Said the leading newspaper, the Monitor Republicano, in its comment on this circumstance, "It appears that this barbarous amusement is creating trouble on all sides." I do not recollect whether any affray arose from this particular source, but the atmosphere is belligerent, and broils are not at all uncommon. A great rivalry was developed at one time between the Spaniards and Mexicans attending the Colon ring, as to the merits of bull-fighting in their respective countries, and several duels took place, which we may no doubt consider as having settled the question.
The Monitor, greatly to its credit, holds out stoutly, as almost the only opponent of this pernicious influence. It dreads to see in it a sign of the decadence of Mexico. The rage increases, in fact, almost from hour to hour. Even while this account is being written there comes news of the building of two more bull-rings, in addition to the five already mentioned, all in a city of two hundred thousand people. How would such a state of things strike us if it existed, say, at Buffalo or Louisville! If the most cultured class be but languidly affected by the passion, with the lower class it is a perfect mania. It is such a crying evil in certain ways as to threaten the disorganization of society. It adds enormously to the difficulties of the servant question, which, strangely enough, in Mexico, for all its millions of the indigenous race to draw upon, is almost as difficult as with us. Employés neglect important business interests, servants run away from their masters altogether, or unfeelingly desert them at no matter what time of sickness or the like, rob the houses, confiscate small amounts committed to their care, or make more corrupt bargains yet with market-men, all to gratify this amusement and secure the funds for the coveted ticket to the bull-ring.
The best bulls are those that come from the hacienda of Atenco, in the valley of Toluca, a vale a good deal higher above the sea, even, than that of Mexico, from which it is forty miles distant. Atenco is devoted exclusively to raising this warlike stock, and it is an interesting, if somewhat fear-inspiring, sight to see them pasturing on their native hills. The effort is made to breed the darker colors, under the impression that these are most inclined to bravery. The bulls of Atenco are pure chestnut; those of such other well-known haciendas as Cazadero, Azala, and San Diego de los Padres are chestnut and black, black, and very dark chestnut, respectively.
Bulls of extra fighting quality are also brought over from Spain. The Espada "Cuatro Dedos" (Four Fingers), so named from the loss of one of his fingers, brings with him a company and twelve fine Spanish bulls. They work at Vera Cruz, then at Orizaba, and then reach the capital. The venerable Manuel Payno, statesman and author, writing back to a newspaper from the parent-country, says,
"With the prevailing craze for bulls in Mexico—which I do not share—it may interest you to know that fifteen magnificent bulls were shipped from here by the last French steamer. They were fierce to the degree that no one could approach their cage. They weighed a matter of thirty-three thousand pounds in all, and cost twelve thousand dollars. To-day's steamer takes out fifteen more, in my opinion even finer and braver than those, and, as a mere matter of curiosity, I should really like to hear the result of their contests."
The fight I have described contains the essential features of all; they are, the world over, but slight variations on the same theme. The object is always to gradate the torture to the waning strength of the bull, so as to get as much sport out of him as possible. Sometimes, by clumsy work, the victim, though fatally wounded, is not killed, and then a troop of tame cattle are let in to career around the
ring and lure him away with them. I have said nothing yet of the accidents to the human performers, but they are plenty and serious. "El Artillero" breaks his left thigh-bone, and the picador Perez is grievously hurt internally; the banderillero Ramon Lopez is caught at the barrier and pinned through the thick part of his thigh; another is blinded of an eye, and another permanently unfitted for his profession by the disabling of an arm. The public look on at this display of courage—which is the one redeeming feature of the show—with much the same impartiality as the Western wife in the story who, finding her spouse engaged in fight with a grisly, cried, "Go in, b'ar! go in, old man!" They would not, of course, wish the toreador to come to any fatal harm; but if it is to happen they are very glad to be there and see it. Sometimes it is a jealous rivalry between two of the performers themselves, under the eye of the public, that leads them on to all sorts of over-reckless feats.
Philanthropic bull-fights are sometimes given for the benefit of such wounded; and in the course of these, very likely, as many more are made. They are given for the benefit of cigar-girls thrown out of employment by a strike, and on Independence Day—September 16th—free bull-fights were given in all the rings as a measure of patriotic rejoicing.
As the diversion became common, the standard of criticism was naturally raised. Not less than three journals, and I don't know but more, are now devoted to it in the city of Mexico. La Muleta, La Banderilla, and El Arte de la Lidia (the Art of Bull-fighting) appear weekly, containing profound disquisitions and vigorous diatribes concerning their specialty, together with news, summaries, and correspondence from all quarters, accompanied by large colored cartoons. Their tone of comment runs to
unmeasured severity, and is an echo of the fierce opinions of the arena itself.
"The bulls from Cieneguilla," the Muleta will say, for instance, "acquitted themselves well, but the picadors—will a merciful Providence spare us any more of their sort in the future! Our stock-breeders and managers are getting so they offer us for a picador the first country lout they fall in with along the highway—a shoemaker as likely as not, or any poor riffraff whatever. As for the banderilleros, except Ramon Lopez, 'El Chiquitin,' and Ramon Marquez, there was not one of them so much as worth his salt. We have a Tovalo, Heaven save the mark! who is not fit to banderillar a goat; a Cuco who but language fails us in his case—and a Pompeyo who, could all his blunders be solidified, must be buried out of sight under the multitude of them. . . . Now, as to the espadas, 'El Habanero' (the Havana boy), he was luckless with his first bull, doubly so with his second, and too wholly unlucky for anything with his third. A year ago the Habanero was one sort of man, and now he is quite another. Is this only the natural effect of his pygmy stature, his shaking hand? He simply—carves the bulls; and, ye gods, how he carves them! Once he stood firm upon his legs, but now he skips about like a jumping-jack. Before Heaven, Manolo, this is no way to treat your obligations to a long-suffering public as a killer of bulls. . . . The whole affair was not a bull-fight at all; it was an herradura"
The herradura, it will be called to mind, is the disorderly, confusing occasion on which the young cattle are first branded with their owner's mark.Such remarks are more common than the opposite, and are addressed, as we see, to the foremost lights in the profession. These technical journals are no respecters of persons,
The most prominent espadas, thus far, are found among the Spaniards. Of the Mexicans who are coming up to rival them, Ponciano Diaz stands at the head—if, indeed, he be not now better than any other except Mazzantini. An exhibition of his at the Colon ring last August was spoken of at the time as the finest ever seen in the capital. The immense amphitheatre was filled with "the beauty and chivalry of Mexico." Ponciano killed six bulls, worth one hundred and fifty dollars each. Bouquets of flowers were continually rained upon him, and his popularity seemed to have reached a dizzy height.
Ponciano Diaz, like his namesake, President Diaz, is a thorough Mexican in looks and type, and a brief mention of the main points in his career will illustrate the rise of a native hero and idol in this popular diversion.
He is twenty-nine years old. He was born on the hacienda of Atenco, above mentioned, where his father was the caporal, or general overseer of the stock. This situation gave the young Ponciano decided advantages and a bias from the start. It is rather curious to reflect upon such an infancy as was his, passed among the fierce bulls of Atenco; he was his father's constant companion, mounting on horseback beside him, from his tenderest years.
Although there was no bull-fighting in the Federal District at the time, there was plenty in the villages round about, and the young Ponciano fed his growing taste with the exhibitions thus accessible. Then he joined a band, got up by certain "Hernandez Brothers," on the hacienda itself. He made his first public appearance in the professional way in the humble capacity of an arrastrador,
or clearer-up of the ring—beginning, as will be seen, like most great geniuses, at the bottom of the ladder. This was in fair-time at Tenango. In due course he was taken on as an employé by the proprietor of the hacienda of San Diego de los Padres, a gentleman of sporting tastes, who gave him every advantage, believing he had discovered in him a future espada. This genial and discerning proprietor allowed Ponciano to banderillar some of the animals at branding-time, and transfix others with the rapier, and then to organize amateur bull-fights on the great open-air threshing-floor of the farm.
We find Ponciano starting out with a band of his own at the early age of twenty-one. He met with a very flattering reception. From that time on, for several years, he passed from one small town to another, giving exhibitions. He was at Cuatitlan among the rest, and I should not be surprised if he were the very one I saw there, though I preserved no programme, and was so interested in what was done at my first bull-fight that I thought very little of who did it.
When the prohibition was raised, he finally came to complete at the capital the great fame of which he had already so well laid the foundation.
Don Ponciano's method of slaying—I speak now as a virtuoso—is not free from faults. These are probably due to a lack of acquaintance with the best models in early life. Your left hand, for instance, friend Ponciano, is by no means as dexterous as it should be, and this naturally often leads to some awkwardness at the supreme moment of the killing.
But he has much ambition and is ever zealous to improve. He has no rival in the trick of placing banderillas on horseback, and in lassoing and throwing the bull by the tail. In the saddle he is the perfect type of the
Mexican horseman and cavalier. His style of killing by the underhand thrust is very notable, and he has begun of late to kill also by the more difficult overhand thrust. His keen eye, cool pulse, and undaunted courage bring it about that he wastes very little time on trifling wounds, but despatches the enemy at once with deep and effectual stabs.
In private life, also, he is a complete caballero, a good fellow, polite and attentive to all, and particularly warm-hearted and jovial with "the boys." He lives with his aged mother, of whom he is the main-stay and support, after which little more need be said.
And yet, fine as all this may be, one cannot help ardently wishing, Don Ponciano, that you and your esteemed associates were in a very much better business.