Since the days of Southey the romantic literature of Spain has not
received from English writers and critics the amount of study and
attention it undoubtedly deserves. In no European country did the
seeds of Romance take root so readily or blossom so speedily and
luxuriantly as in Spain, which perhaps left the imprint of its
national character more deeply upon the literature of chivalry than
did France or England. When we think of chivalry, do we not think
first of Spain, of her age-long struggle against the pagan invaders
of Europe, her sensitiveness to all that concerned personal and
national honour, of the names of the Cid Campeador, Gayferos, and
Gonzalvo de Cordova, gigantic shadows in harness, a pantheon of
heroes, which the martial legends of few lands can equal and none
surpass. The epic of our British Arthur, the French chansons de
gestes, are indebted almost as much to folklore as to the
imagination of the singers who first gave them literary shape. But
in the romances of Spain we find that folklore plays an
inconsiderable part, and that her chivalric fictions are either the
offspring of historic happenings or of that brilliant and glowing
imagination which illumines the whole expanse of Peninsular
I have given more space to the proofs of connexion between the
French chansons de gestes and the Spanish cantares de gesta than
most of my predecessors who have written of Castilian romantic
story. Indeed, with the exception of Mr Fitzmaurice Kelly, whose
admirable work in the field of Spanish letters forms so happy an
exception to our national neglect of a great literature, I am aware
of no English writer who has concerned himself with this subject.
My own opinion regarding the almost total lack of Moorish influence
upon the Spanish romanceros is in consonance with that of critics
much better qualified to pass judgment upon such a question. But
for my classification of the ballad I am indebted to no one, and
this a long devotion to the study of ballad literature perhaps
entitles me to make. I can claim, too, that my translations are not
mere paraphrases, but provide renderings of tolerable accuracy.
I have made an earnest endeavour to provide English readers with
a conspectus of Spanish romantic literature as expressed in its
cantares de gesta, its chivalric novels, its romanceros or ballads,
and some of its lighter aspects. The reader will find full accounts
and summaries of all the more important works under each of these
heads, many of which have never before been described in
If the perusal of this book leads to the more general study of
the noble and useful Castilian tongue on the part of but a handful
of those who read it, its making will have been justified. The real
brilliance and beauty of these tales lie behind the curtains of a
language unknown to most British people, and can only be liberated
by the spell of study. This book contains merely the poor shadows
and reflected wonders of screened and hidden marvels.
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