British Fiction, 18001829

LLANOS GUTIERREZ, Valentin. Sandoval (1826)

Contemporary Reviews

Monthly Review, n.s. 3 (Sept 1826): 30–37.

M. Llanos, the author of this tale, is an expatriated Spaniard, who appears to have mingled in some of the political scenes which he has described. But for this circumstance a very cursory examination of its contents would have satisfied us that it was not worth the notice which we propose to take of it; and our only reason for occupying a few pages with some account of it, is to indulge the curiosity which its announcement may have raised among our readers, and at the same time to save them the trouble and disappointment of toiling through its vapid and spiritless narrative.

Sandoval professes to be a historical novel, recounting the adventures of a young Spanish gentleman of the liberal part, from the year 1814, when the contemptible Ferdinand, on his release from the power of Napoleon, was suffered to re-establish the old absolute monarchy, until the revolution which, six years later, overthrew his despotism for a time, and set up again the short-lived reign of an impracticable constitution. The real object of the author has been, in fact, to offer a connected view of the political transactions which agitated Spain during all these six years; and accordingly he has made his hero both a member of the masonic or secret association, in which the designs of the revolutionary party are supposed to have been organized, and also a sharer in every abortive conspiracy which preceded the successful insurrection of the expeditionary army before Cadiz. Thus, on the return from France of the Spanish army which had fought under Wellington in the great cause of the national independence, Sandoval is first introduced to us as a prominent agitator of free opinions; and he labours without success to secure the resolute fidelity of his comrades to the constitutional system, which Ferdinand, aided by the partisans of his despotism, was in the act of subverting. After the failure of these patriotic efforts, he falls naturally enough under suspicion of the royal government; his aged father also, from being a notorious liberal, is persecuted, and obliged to fly the country for his life; and Sandoval himself receives his parting exhortation to remain, and devote himself with all the energy of youth to the cause of freedom.

Mina’s attempt to raise the constitutional standard in Navarre is made to supply Sandoval with the first opportunity of exertion; and he assists in the unfortunate scheme of that celebrated chieftain to surprise Pamplona. Escaping the disastrous issue of this enterprise, Sandoval next embarks in the equally rash and more tragical conspiracy of the ill-fated Porlier at Coruña. He of course is preserved from sharing the cruel death of his leader; and after this catastrophe he proceeds to Madrid, where he engages deeply in all the meetings and plots of the freemasons and secret [30/31] fraternities, who still perseveringly cherished the hope of revolutionizing Spain. For his next exploit, Sandoval is associated with Colonel Vidal in the meditated insurrection at Valencia, which was to have commenced with the assassination of the ferocious Elio, then governing that province as captain-general under the despotism. Here again Sandoval makes his escape, after the capture of the other conspirators and the fall of Vidal; and the author finally removes him to the camp of the expeditionary army of Cadiz, that he may introduce him as a principal actor in the ephemeral revolution under Quiroga and Riego, all the well known and thrice told circumstances, of which are here once more repeated to us in tiresome and prolix detail.

Such is the historical matter which the author has chosen to mould into so anomalous a shape; and he has interwoven in it a due proportion of all the materials which enter into the composition of a common-place novel. We have, it is needless to say, a love-tale with its attendant doubts and distractions, tenderness and jealousies, hopes and despair. Coupled with these is the vulgar machinery of an intriguing villain for the piece, selected of course from the cloister; a designing and brutal rival, who perfidiously injures the hero; and a brace of servants, a valet and waiting-maid, who share the confidence and distresses of the principal lovers, and emulate them at an humble distance by a passion for each other. By means of these agents, the author has contrived to interlard his politics with a sufficient quantity of outrageous adventures and ridiculous improbabilities to eke out three volumes—and the task is accomplished!

In compounding a motley work after this fashion, parcel political, parcel sentimental, the author has attempted an almost hopeless undertaking. He has to circumstances, which are delivered for historical and authentic, assigned actors and connections which are avowedly fictitious; he has laid the reality of the scene in our own passing times, and almost under our own eyes; and he has hoped both to engage our interest in the creations of his fancy, and seriously to instruct us in the progress of public events! To such a confusion of truth and fable, all the objections commonly urged against the historical novel have a tenfold application; and we can scarcely believe that the most brilliant union of imagination and skill would be sufficient to rescue such an attempt from the certainty of failure. If we are to regard the tale as a historical sketch, the introduction of fictitious incidents is in itself sufficient to destroy all our confidence in the narrative where it is meant to be authoritative: if it is to be treated as a novel, nothing can be more absurd than to rest its foundation upon facts, with which every one is familiar who has looked for the last ten years into the columns of our newspapers. It would be about as feasible to construct a heroic poem upon the Manchester riots, or to turn the last Southwark selection into a romance. [31/32]

But all the natural difficulties and incompatibilities of the author’s design are rendered still more glaring by his total want of consistent invention and descriptive power. He has not only favoured us, in his preface, with a sort of apologetical dissertation upon the peculiarities of his plan, but has even so totally disregarded all keeping and propriety in the narrative itself, as frequently to pause in the text to remind us that the personages, for whom he would solicit our interest, are fictitious. And to guard against the possibility of our yielding to the illusion of the story, or feeling any sympathy for the distresses and danger of its personages, he is careful to distinguish, as he proceeds, between the historical portion of the work, and the imaginary adventures of its hero.

The unskilful management and absurdities of the tale are almost too puerile for comment. Having been pleased to drive the father of Sandoval into exile almost in the commencement of the first volume, and finding the old man’s part a superfluous one in the remainder of the plot; the author and the amiable hero appear to forget him altogether; and such is the exemplary filial piety of Sandoval, that his parent is never represented as engaging a thought, and his name is not even mentioned again, until, at the close of the third volume, he is restored to his country in the happiness of the denouement. Sandoval has an only brother, Fermin, who espouses the servile party, and though a man of virtue and honour, engages as a spy and an agent of the court among the soldiery to bribe and seduce them from their faith to the constitution. In this worthy office, he is employed also to corrupt Sandoval himself; and the latter, in a private interview, during a long and interesting conversation, in which he scrutinizes the stranger closely, fails in discovering his own brother, either by his figure or his voice! Of a piece with this wondrously probable incident, is another scene in the third volume, in which Sandoval, appearing incognito at a fête, gives his arm to his mistress Gabriela,—is exposed face to face to her gaze,—converses with her,—speaks long and earnestly to her of himself,—pleads his own cause as an intimate friend of her calumniated lover,—falls at her feet in the vehemence of his passion,—presses, her hand to his lips,—and yet, throughout all this highly dramatic situation, is never recognized by her, because he is disguised in an elderly gentleman’s wig! This same fête is adorned by a ridiculous account of a tournament (!!), at which Sandoval, having changed his garb, by the legerdemain of a moment, appears as a forlorn knight, insults the king before his court, and carries off the highest prizes, which he lays at the feet of Gabriela; his prowess being regulated by the law, says our discreet novelist, ‘by which the hero of a story must always be the very paragon of perfection.’

After such gross and palpable follies as these, the author’s management of minor affairs will cease to surprise. We have a [32/33] contrivance (vol. i. p. 259) for exciting the jealousy of Sandoval, so threadbare and trite, that even a novelist of the Minerva Press would be ashamed of introducing it; in another place we have a spy, who openly takes notes in his pocket-book, in the public room an inn, of the conversation of the company; and, lastly, we have a general officer, who, in reply to Sandoval’s taunt at his cowardice, utters the following highly probable exposure of his own pusillanimity: ‘ “Ay! but you forget that I was subject to a fever whenever a battle was to be fought,” said the quartermaster-general, “and this simply because I worked up my courage to that degree of excitement, that it invariably brought on shiverings. This, too, was my reason for accepting my present post of quarter-master-general, which obliged me to keep in the rear. Besides, mere courage is not worth a groat—that is a gift which almost every brute possesses; it is understanding, a knowledge of the ordinances, and above all, obedience, which are most requisite.” ’

But to specify all the extravagances and inconsistencies in the fictitious plot of the novel, would be an interminable task; and we turn to make a few passing comments on its political matter, although there is not even here much more to applaud. As to the mere relation of the conspiracies of Mina, Porlier, Vidal, and Riego, there is really not a syllable in these narratives, verbose and tedious as they are, which we had not heard sufficiently before. Here we had anticipated no novelty, and we found none: but the title chosen for the book had in one respect roused our curiosity. We imagined that, in the adventures of the Freemason, the author had amalgamated some interesting particulars of the secret masonic associations, which are thought to have constituted such important engines of patriotism or faction in Spain during the last twelve years; but we were utterly disappointed. The account which the novelist has introduced of such masonic meetings and proceedings is altogether uninteresting, and even ludicrous; and his descriptions prove, either, that he was not himself of the initiated, and, knows nothing of those associations, or else that the influence and dangerous vigour, ascribed to them by friends and foes, in organizing the elements of revolution have been preposterously exaggerated. In Sandoval, the agitators in these societies, whose measures are invested with pompous importance and mystery, prove to be mere old women and drivellers in their purposes; and the only fruits of their machinations which the author records are ‘most impotent conclusions.’

The outrageous spirit of party, and the violence and prejudice under which the work has been written, are other serious objections to its political statements; and where this bias is so ungovernably evinced, it is of course impossible to rely implicitly on any of the author’s representations or colouring, except in cases in which his fidelity has been established in advance by former writers of more impartiality. We may freely pardon the irritation of an exile, [33/34] whose theme is the political degradation of his country, and who dwells upon the ruin which has followed the utopian schemes of his party: but the unbounded virulence with which he declaims in every page upon the conduct of Ferdinand and his satellites, renders him but a very unsafe and suspicious authority. The Spanish clergy are the objects throughout of his rancorous hatred; and the very enormity of the guilt which he attributes to that body is so monstrous and incredible as entirely to defeat its own object. His narrative is composed with all the unfairness of a furious partisan. Not contented, in that part of it which is intended to be historical, with painting the conduct of the king, the priesthood, and the whole despotic party, in the most odious light, he studiously darkens the picture by the introduction of many circumstances which are purely inventive; the monk, who plays a prominent part in the picture, is an unnatural monster of wanton guilt and impiety; and the character of Ferdinand is wound to its climax of infamy by a brutal attempt upon the person of the heroine, which is wholly the coinage of the author’s fertile and well regulated imagination!

We would gladly have escaped both from the historical topics, and political jargon, of this nondescript tale, and from its uninteresting fiction, to have selected for observation a few sketches of Spanish manners, customs, or scenery. But even here the author has strangely wanted the animation and original talent to set before us the local and national peculiarities of his country and its people. In turning over his pages, we have really been at a loss to find any sketch of this kind—and there is absolutely nothing else—worth extracting. As our readers will probably expect us, however, to give a specimen or two of the author’s manner, we may as well, perhaps, take his description of Lavapie, the St. Giles’s of Madrid, and its ferocious denizens. To this spot Sandoval is supposed to have proceeded in search of his servant Roque.

‘Having ascertained from Roque’s friend, as nearly as he could, the place in Lavapie where he was likely to meet him, Sandoval proceeded towards the spot with all possible haste, till at last he came to a lane where he heard, not far off, the twanging of guitars, and the sound of voices singing the lively and favourite dances of the manolas, culled manchegas, and observed some of their women just entering the house from which the merry sounds issued. He hastened to the place, and knocking at the door demanded admittance in the usual way. “May I crave the favour of being admitted to participate in your pleasures?”

‘ “By all means,” said an old sybil, who opened the door to him, and gave him, in their common ridiculous style, some necessary directions, that he should not mistake his road. The first passage, however, was so dark, that Sandoval was obliged to grope along as if he had been blindfolded, his head now and then touching the ceiling from which fragments of it crumbled down, and covered him all over with dust, while his feet occasionally stuck into the holes and crevices of the floor, from which, with great difficulty, he got his boots out. On reaching a small [34/35] court, his way became a little more discernible, both by the twilight which lent it its dim light, and by the clamour and din that issued from the room where the dance was kept up. As he entered the second passage he heard more distinctly the obstreperous laugh and loud talk of the men, who graced every other word with an oath or an obscenity, and the shrill and penetrating voices of the women singing their manchegas, and cutting their jokes at each other, mingling with the confused sounds of timbrels, guitars, one or two violins, and spirited stamping of the feet. He was almost tempted to turn back; but the hope of finding his servant there prevailed, and he proceeded towards the room, in which he discerned a single lamp hanging from the ceiling, and scattering just light enough to enable them to see each other’s faces. The door of this room was so small, that Sandoval was obliged to stoop till his head nearly touched his knees; and as there was a step to be descended which he did not notice, he came into the room with that part of his body foremost, and his heels cutting a caper in the air. “Chica [1], put out the light, for the gentleman is now a bed,” said one of the manolas, suddenly turning to one of her friends.

‘A burst of laughter followed this sally, while the confused Sandoval endeavoured to disentangle himself from his cloak, and recover his upright position.—“ ’Tis the custom here, my darling, to pay for the bed on which we lie,” said another, approaching him with one hand fixed on her hip, and the other stretched out, and surveying him from head to foot, her head bent on one side, and nodding with a saucy impudent look, while she beat time with her toes on the ground.

‘ “And pray what may your charge be?” inquired he.

‘ “The more you give us the better, my beloved,” she said, “but we’ll be reasonable, and have it in the right juice; Valdopeñas, I trow you like. Well, then, slacken the strings of your pouch, and I’ll send for an azumbre [2].”

‘Sandoval thought it prudent not to object to this, and pulled out his purse (which happened to be tolerably well furnished, and on which more than one eager glance lighted) to take out a silver piece, which he gave to the manola—“I see you love the king’s face,” said she, “he is a good looking man enough in the yellow ones, but d—n me if I would exchange my Pepehillo for his royal person.”

‘Saying this, she took the piece, and beckoning to a tall majo, who was in earnest conversation with several others, gave him the silver, had spoke to him in a low voice, of which Sandoval only caught the two or three last words; but of which he did not know the meaning, as they were spoken in their peculiar slang. She then invited our hero to sit down, while the wine came, on one of the wooden benches which stood against the wall, where, once installed, she began to pour forth a volley of witticisms, which she occasionally seasoned with an oath, to render them more expressive. Most of it, however, was lost on Sandoval, whose eyes were glancing from one corner of the room to another, endeavouring to discover whether Roque was among the revellers.

‘The room, which might be about thirty feet wide by thirty-five long, [35/36] was evidently too small for the company who were assembled in it, and who amounted to about sixty persons, some of whom were sitting squat on the floor, round a bota [3], which they occasionally lifted up to their lips, and kissed with the devotional fervour peculiar to the manolas. Another group was seen sitting on a bench near a blind fiddler, whom they accompanied with their guitars, while some of the girls, who stood by, added their own voices, and the regular sounds of their timbrels, to that of the numerous castanets of the dancers, who were in the middle of the room, executing with the graceful attitudes peculiar to this kind of people, their manchegas in sets of four persons of both sexes to each, all of whom joined to really fine shapes and well formed limbs the utmost elegance in their movements, and vivacity and expression in their countenances. The dress of the women was in their usual style.—A mantilla pinned on the large knot of hair, which they wear on one side of the head, and falling gracefully, one end of it as low as the neck, and the other over the shoulder and arm. On their head, and between the plaits of the mantilla that conceal part of their ebony hair, peeped a rose or a pink of large size. Their small waists were tightly laced, and clothed with a silk spencer, fitting close, and having a variety of silk and silver fringes, and buttons of the same colour at the shoulders and cuffs. Their petticoats, of different colours and stuffs, reaching only about the lower part of the calves of their legs, shewed beautiful net-work stockings of exquisite whiteness; while their small feet were enclosed in very small shoes, all of coloured silk, graced with large bows, and just covering their toes. Their eyes, which they cast with such a roguish expression of conscious power as rendered them almost irresistible, were large, dark, and lively; their countenances oval and regularly formed; and their complexions, though brown, were sufficiently pleasing, and free from that yellow tinge which bespeaks ill health, and the effects of intemperance in a southern climate. With respect to the men, their dress corresponded in every respect with that of their women. A bowl-crowned, broad-brimmed hat, clapped over the right ear, with a redecilla [4] underneath, enclosing the long tresses of their black hair, which they tie together in a large knot; a short velvet jacket, fitting close to the body, and trimmed with silk buttons both on the shoulders and on the sleeves; an elegant vest, adorned with several rows of hanging silver buttons; breeches, also of velvet, and similarly adorned about the knees; snow-white stockings; a pair of small shoes, decked with a magnificent bow of silver lace; and to complete the whole, a cloak lightly thrown over the left shoulder, leaving the right arm at liberty. Their countenances, equally expressive with those of their women, were covered with immense black whiskers, extending from their ears to their cheek-bones, and down to the corner of their mouths, in which they held their cigars, while their large dark eyes shone now fiercely, and now amorously, according as they were agitated by love or jealousy, merriment or displeasure.’—Vol. iii. pp. 53–61.

From this dangerous situation Sandoval with difficulty escaped with his life, after having been robbed. The circumstances under which he is lightened of his purse, are, however, ridiculously im-[36/37]probable. A fight ensues among the women, one cuts the throat of another, the dancers fly in all directions, while Sandoval, by the aid of an old woman, escapes to a cockloft, where she locks him in. Groping about the room, he catches hold of the leg of a dead man, which throws him into despair. He rushes forward, bursts open a door into an adjoining apartment, where he beholds a corpse laid out in a coffin, and surrounded by lights. The corpse suddenly becomes instinct with life, rises from the coffin, stalks about the, room with his hands in his pockets, and after freezing every top of Sandoval’s blood with terror, compels him to give up all his money and trinkets, and then—shows him the door! For such a tragical termination of Sandoval’s visit to Lavapie, M. Llanos thinks it necessary to make the following apology.

‘In justice, however, to the celebrated Besuguillo’s dancing parties, we ought to remark here, that the evening’s entertainment would not have ended quite so tragically as in that of the manolas; although it seldom terminated otherwise than by a formal cudgelling, the heterogeneous nature of the company containing in itself every element of discord and strife. There were officer tailors, and gentlemen shoemakers, who are always at open war, the former ranking, in their own conceit, a step higher in the scale of society than the latter, and they scorning the pretensions of individuals, nine of whom they account are necessary to make a single man; besides, there were also to be found these rivals in news-mongering —barbers, and porters of public offices; pettyfogging lawyers, and their counterpart, subaltern officers of the army; gentlemen’s valets de chambre, and their loving friends, grooms and coachmen; and, lastly, military officers, and guardias de corps [5] in disguise, who were in the habit of visiting those rooms with the laudable intention of throwing all into confusion, and making riots,—the female part of the company being very well inclined to assist in those frolics, though (were men to judge by the finery, and almost elegant simplicity, of their appearance) no one would suspect them of being capable “even of breaking a plate,” as the Spanish expression goes.’—Vol. iii. pp. 71, 72.

Here we stop. Our readers, most probably, like ourselves, will already have had quite enough of Sandoval and its author.

[1] ‘Corresponding in English to “I say,” or “my dear.” ’
[2] ‘Two quarts.’
[3] ‘A small leather bag for wine.’
[4] ‘A small net for the hair.’
[5] ‘Life guardsmen, a corps composed of sons of hidalgos, who hold the ranks of officers in other corps in the army, and who are in attendance on the king and the royal family.’

Notes: Format: 3 vols 8vo; price 1l. 8s. 6d. Publisher: Colburn.

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