The Crayon Papers/Don Juan
A SPECTRAL RESEARCH
"I have heard of spirits walking with aerial bodies, and have been
wondered at by others; but I must only wonder at myself, for if they
be not mad, I'me come to my own buriall."
--SHIRLEY's Witty Fairie One
Everybody has heard of the fate of Don Juan, the famous libertine of Seville, who for his sins against the fair sex and other minor peccadilloes was hurried away to the infernal regions. His story has been illustrated in play, in pantomime, and farce, on every stage in Christendom; until at length it has been rendered the theme of the operas, and embalmed to endless duration in the glorious music of Mozart. I well recollect the effect of this story upon my feelings in my boyish days, though represented in grotesque pantomime; the awe with which I contemplated the monumental statue on horseback of the murdered commander, gleaming by pale moonlight in the convent cemetery; how my heart quaked as he bowed his marble head, and accepted the impious invitation of Don Juan: how each footfall of the statue smote upon my heart, as I heard it approach, step by step, through the echoing corridor, and beheld it enter, and advance, a moving figure of stone, to the supper table! But then the convivial scene in the charnel-house, where Don Juan returned the visit of the statue; was offered a banquet of skulls and bones, and on refusing to partake, was hurled into a yawning gulf, under a tremendous shower of fire! These were accumulated horrors enough to shake the nerves of the most pantomime-loving schoolboy. Many have supposed the story of Don Juan a mere fable. I myself thought so once; but "seeing is believing." I have since beheld the very scene where it took place, and now to indulge any doubt on the subject would be preposterous.
I was one night perambulating the streets of Seville, in company with a Spanish friend, a curious investigator of the popular traditions and other good-for-nothing lore of the city, and who was kind enough to imagine he had met, in me, with a congenial spirit. In the course of our rambles we were passing by a heavy, dark gateway, opening into the courtyard of a convent, when he laid his hand upon my arm: "Stop!" said he, "this is the convent of San Francisco; there is a story connected with it which I am sure must be known to you. You cannot but have heard of Don Juan and the marble statue."
"Undoubtedly," replied I, "it has been familiar to me from childhood."
"Well, then, it was in the cemetery of this very convent that the events took place."
"Why, you do not mean to say that the story is founded on fact?"
"Undoubtedly it is. The circumstances of the case are said to have occurred during the reign of Alfonso XI. Don Juan was of the noble family of Tenorio, one of the most illustrious houses of Andalusia. His father, Don Diego Tenorio, was a favorite of the king, and his family ranked among the deintecuatros, or magistrates, of the city. Presuming on his high descent and powerful connections, Don Juan set no bounds to his excesses: no female, high or low, was sacred from his pursuit: and he soon became the scandal of Seville. One of his most daring outrages was, to penetrate by night into the palace of Don Gonzalo de Ulloa, commander of the order of Calatrava, and attempt to carry off his daughter. The household was alarmed; a scuffle in the dark took place; Don Juan escaped, but the unfortunate commander was found weltering in his blood, and expired without being able to name his murderer. Suspicions attached to Don Juan; he did not stop to meet the investigations of justice, and the vengeance of the powerful family of Ulloa, but fled from Seville, and took refuge with his uncle, Don Pedro Tenorio, at that time embassador at the court of Naples. Here he remained until the agitation occasioned by the murder of Don Gonzalo had time to subside; and the scandal which the affair might cause to both the families of Ulloa and Tenorio had induced them to hush it up. Don Juan, however, continued his libertine career at Naples, until at length his excesses forfeited the protection of his uncle, the embassador, and obliged him again to flee. He had made his way back to Seville, trusting that his past misdeeds were forgotten, or rather trusting to his dare-devil spirit and the power of his family to carry him through all difficulties.
"It was shortly after his return, and while in the height of his arrogance, that on visiting this very convent of Francisco, he beheld on a monument the equestrian statue of the murdered commander, who had been buried within the walls of this sacred edifice, where the family of Ulloa had a chapel. It was on this occasion that Don Juan, in a moment of impious levity, invited the statue to the banquet, the awful catastrophe of which has given such celebrity to his story."
"And pray how much of this story," said I, "is believed in Seville?"
"The whole of it by the populace; with whom it has been a favorite tradition since time immemorial, and who crowd to the theaters to see it represented in dramas written long since by Tyrso de Molina, and another of our popular writers. Many in our higher ranks also, accustomed from childhood to this story, would feel somewhat indignant at hearing it treated with contempt. An attempt has been made to explain the whole, by asserting that, to put an end to the extravagances of Don Juan, and to pacify the family of Ulloa, without exposing the delinquent to the degrading penalties of justice, he was decoyed into this convent under a false pretext, and either plunged into a perpetual dungeon, or privately hurried out of existence; while the story of the statue was circulated by the monks, to account for his sudden disappearance. The populace, however, are not to be cajoled out of a ghost story by any of these plausible explanations; and the marble statue still strides the stage, and Don Juan is still plunged into the infernal regions, as an awful warning to all rake-helly youngsters, in like case offending."
While my companion was relating these anecdotes, we had entered the gateway, traversed the exterior courtyard of the convent, and made our way into a great interior court; partly surrounded by cloisters and dormitories, partly by chapels, and having a large fountain in the center. The pile had evidently once been extensive and magnificent; but it was for the greater part in ruins. By the light of the stars, and of twinkling lamps placed here and there in the chapels and corridors, I could see that many of the columns and arches were broken; the walls were rent and riven; white burned beams and rafters showed the destructive effects of fire. The whole place had a desolate air; the night breeze rustled through grass and weeds flaunting out of the crevices of the walls, or from the shattered columns; the bat flitted about the vaulted passages, and the owl hooted from the ruined belfry. Never was any scene more completely fitted for a ghost story.
While I was indulging in picturings of the fancy, proper to such a place, the deep chant of the monks from the convent church came swelling upon the ear. "It is the vesper service," said my companion; "follow me."
Leading the way across the court of the cloisters, and through one or two ruined passages, he reached the distant portal of the church, and pushing open a wicket, cut in the folding doors, we found ourselves in the deep arched vestibule of the sacred edifice. To our left was the choir, forming one end of the church, and having a low vaulted ceiling, which gave it the look of a cavern. About this were ranged the monks, seated on stools, and chanting from immense books placed on music-stands, and having the notes scored in such gigantic characters as to be legible from every part of the choir. A few lights on these music-stands dimly illumined the choir, gleamed on the shaven heads of the monks and threw their shadows on the walls. They were gross, blue-bearded, bullet-headed men, with bass voices, of deep metallic tone, that reverberated out of the cavernous choir.
To our right extended the great body of the church. It was spacious and lofty; some of the side chapels had gilded grates, and were decorated with images and paintings, representing the sufferings of our Saviour. Aloft was a great painting by Murillo, but too much in the dark to be distinguished. The gloom of the whole church was but faintly relieved by the reflected light from the choir, and the glimmering here and there of a votive lamp before the shrine of a saint.
As my eye roamed about the shadowy pile, it was struck with the dimly seen figure of a man on horseback, near a distant altar. I touched my companion, and pointed to it: "The specter statue!" said I.
"No," replied he; "it is the statue of the blessed St. Iago; the statue of the commander was in the cemetery of the convent, and was destroyed at the tune of the conflagration. But," added he, "as I see you take a proper interest in these kind of stories, come with me to the other end of the church, where our whisperings will not disturb these holy fathers at their devotions, and I will tell you another story that has been current for some generations in our city, by which you will find that Don Juan is not the only libertine that has been the object of supernatural castigation in Seville."
I accordingly followed him with noiseless tread to the further part of the church, where we took our seats on the steps of an altar, opposite to the suspicious-looking figure on horseback, and there, in a low, mysterious voice, he related to me the following narration:
"There was once in Seville a gay young fellow, Don Manuel de Manara by name, who, having come to a great estate by the death of his father, gave the reins to his passions, and plunged into all kinds of dissipation. Like Don Juan, whom he seemed to have taken for a model, he became famous for his enterprises among the fair sex, and was the cause of doors being barred and windows grated with more than usual strictness. All in vain. No balcony was too high for him to scale; no bolt nor bar was proof against his efforts; and his very name was a word of terror to all the jealous husbands and cautious fathers of Seville. His exploits extended to country as well as city; and in the village dependent on his castle, scarce a rural beauty was safe from his arts and enterprises.
"As he was one day ranging the streets of Seville, with several of his dissolute companions, he beheld a procession about to enter the gate of a convent. In the center was a young female arrayed in the dress of a bride; it was a novice, who, having accomplished her year of probation, was about to take the black veil, and consecrate herself to heaven. The companions of Don Manuel drew back, out of respect to the sacred pageant; but he pressed forward, with his usual impetuosity, to gain a near view of the novice. He almost jostled her, in passing through the portal of the church, when, on her turning round, he beheld the countenance of a beautiful village girl, who had been the object of his ardent pursuit, but who had been spirited secretly out of his reach by her relatives. She recognized him at the same moment, and fainted; but was borne within the grate of the chapel. It was supposed the agitation of the ceremony and the heat of the throng had overcome her. After some time, the curtain which hung within the grate was drawn up: there stood the novice, pale and trembling, surrounded by the abbess and the nuns. The ceremony proceeded; the crown of flowers was taken from her head; she was shorn of her silken tresses, received the black veil, and went passively through the remainder of the ceremony.
"Don Manuel de Manara, on the contrary, was roused to fury at the sight of this sacrifice. His passion, which had almost faded away in the absence of the object, now glowed with tenfold ardor, being inflamed by the difficulties placed in his way, and piqued by the measures which had been taken to defeat him. Never had the object of his pursuit appeared so lovely and desirable as when within the grate of the convent; and he swore to have her, in defiance of heaven and earth. By dint of bribing a female servant of the convent he contrived to convey letters to her, pleading his passion in the most eloquent and seductive terms. How successful they were is only matter of conjecture; certain it is, he undertook one night to scale the garden wall of the convent, either to carry off the nun or gain admission to her cell. Just as he was mounting the wall he was suddenly plucked back, and a stranger, muffled in a cloak, stood before him.
"'Rash man, forbear!' cried he: 'is it not enough to have violated all human ties? Wouldst thou steal a bride from heaven!'
"The sword of Don Manuel had been drawn on the instant, and, furious at this interruption, he passed it through the body of the stranger, who fell dead at his feet. Hearing approaching footsteps, he fled the fatal spot, and mounting his horse, which was at hand, retreated to his estate in the country, at no great distance from Seville. Here he remained throughout the next day, full of horror and remorse; dreading lest he should be known as the murderer of the deceased, and fearing each moment the arrival of the officers of justice.
"The day passed, however, without molestation; and, as the evening approached, unable any longer to endure this state of uncertainty and apprehension, he ventured back to Seville. Irresistibly his footsteps took the direction of the convent; but he paused and hovered at a distance from the scene of blood. Several persons were gathered round the place, one of whom was busy nailing something against the convent wall. After a while they dispersed, and one passed near to Don Manuel. The latter addressed him, with a hesitating voice.
"'Señor,' said he, 'may I ask the reason of yonder throng?'
"'A cavalier,' replied the other, 'has been murdered.'
"'Murdered!' echoed Don Manuel; 'and can you tell me his name?'
"'Don Manuel de Manara,' replied the stranger, and passed on.
"Don Manuel was startled at this mention of his own name; especially when applied to the murdered man. He ventured, when it was entirely deserted, to approach the fatal spot. A small cross had been nailed against the wall, as is customary in Spain, to mark the place where a murder has been committed; and just below it, he read, by the twinkling light of a lamp: 'Here was murdered Don Manuel de Manara. Pray to God for his soul!'
"Still more confounded and perplexed by this inscription, he wandered about the streets until the night was far advanced, and all was still and lonely. As he entered the principal square, the light of torches suddenly broke on him, and he beheld a grand funeral procession moving across it. There was a great train of priests, and many persons of dignified appearance, in ancient Spanish dresses, attending as mourners, none of whom he knew. Accosting a servant who followed in the train, he demanded the name of the defunct.
"'Don Manuel de Manara,' was the reply; and it went cold to his heart. He looked, and indeed beheld the armorial bearings of his family emblazoned on the funeral escutcheons. Yet not one of his family was to be seen among the mourners. The mystery was more and more incomprehensible.
"He followed the procession as it moved on to the cathedral. The bier was deposited before the high altar; the funeral service was commenced, and the grand organ began to peal through the vaulted aisles.
"Again the youth ventured to question this awful pageant. 'Father,' said he, with trembling voice, to one of the priests, 'who is this you are about to inter?'
"'Don Manuel de Manara!' replied the priest.
"'Father,' cried Don Manuel, impatiently, 'you are deceived. This is some imposture. Know that Don Manuel de Manara la alive and well, and now stands before you. I am Don Manuel de Manara!'
"'Avaunt, rash youth!' cried the priest; 'know that Don Manuel de Manara is dead!--is dead!--is dead!--and we are all souls from purgatory, his deceased relatives and ancestors, and others that have been aided by masses of his family, who are permitted to come here and pray for the repose of his soul!'
"Don Manuel cast round a fearful glance upon the assemblage, in antiquated Spanish garbs, and recognized in their pale and ghastly countenances the portraits of many an ancestor that hung in the family picture-gallery. He now lost all self-command, rushed up to the bier, and beheld the counterpart of himself, but in the fixed and livid lineaments of death. Just at that moment the whole choir burst forth with a 'Requiescat in pace,' that shook the vaults of the cathedral. Don Manuel sank senseless on the pavement. He was found there early the next morning by the sacristan, and conveyed to his home. When sufficiently recovered, he sent for a friar and made a full confession of all that had happened.
"'My son,' said the friar, 'all this is a miracle and a mystery, intended for thy conversion and salvation. The corpse thou hast seen was a token that thou hadst died to sin and the world; take warning by it, and henceforth live to righteousness and heaven!'
"Don Manuel did take warning by it. Guided by the counsels of the worthy friar, he disposed of all his temporal affairs; dedicated the greater part of his wealth to pious uses, especially to the performance of masses for souls in purgatory; and finally, entering a convent, became one of the most zealous and exemplary monks in Seville."
* * * * *
While my companion was relating this story, my eyes wandered, from time to time, about the dusky church. Methought the burly countenances of the monks in their distant choir assumed a pallid, ghastly hue, and their deep metallic voices had a sepulchral sound. By the time the story was ended, they had ended their chant; and, extinguishing their lights, glided one by one, like shadows, through a small door in the side of the choir. A deeper gloom prevailed over the church; the figure opposite me on horseback grew more and more spectral; and I almost expected to see it bow its head.
"It is time to be off," said my companion, "unless we intend to sup with the statue."
"I have no relish for such fare or such company," replied I; and, following my companion, we groped our way through the mouldering cloisters. As we passed by the ruined cemetery, keeping up a casual conversation, by way of dispelling the loneliness of the scene, I called to mind the words of the poet:
And monumental caves of death look cold,
And shoot a chillness to my trembling heart!
Give me thy hand, and let me hear thy voice;
Nay, speak--and let me hear thy voice;
My own affrights me with its echoes."
There wanted nothing but the marble statue of the commander striding along the echoing cloisters to complete the haunted scene.
Since that time I never fail to attend the theater whenever the story of Don Juan is represented, whether in pantomime or opera. In the sepulchral scene, I feel myself quite at home; and when the statue makes his appearance, I greet him as an old acquaintance. When the audience applaud, I look round upon them with a degree of compassion. "Poor souls!" I say to myself, "they think they are pleased; they think they enjoy this piece, and yet they consider the whole as a fiction! How much more would they enjoy it, if like me they knew it to be true--and had seen the very place!"