LIFE IN SPAIN
Madrid, 1786. As noted by a visiting (Protestant) Englishman - Joseph Towsend*.
Extracted from his book: A journey through Spain in the years 1786 and 1787
When you pay a visit to a lady (for whenever there is a lady in the family the visit is always to her) you neither knock on the door or ask questions of the porter but go direct to the room where she usually receives her company, and there you seldom fail to find her, morning, noon and night; in winter sitting by the brazier, surrounded by her friends, unless when she is gone to Mass. The friends are mostly gentlemen, because ladies seldom visit in a familiar way; and of the gentlemen thus assembled, one is commonly the Lover[Cortejo]. I say usually because it is not universally the case. During the whole of my residency in Spain, I never heard of jealousy in a husband. Nor could I ever learn, for certain, that such a thing existed. Yes, in the conduct of many ladies, whether it proceeds from the remains of delicacy or from a sense of propriety, or from fear, you may evidently see caution, circumspection and reserve, when their husbands are in sight. Some have address enough to keep the lover in concealment; and this, in Spain, is attended with no great difficulty because, when the ladies go to Mass, they are so disguised so as not to be easily distinguished. Their dress on that occasion is peculiar to the country. They all put on a black silk petticoat and the mantilla, which serves the double purpose of cloak and veil, so as completely, if required, to hide the face. Thus disguised they are at perfect liberty to go where they please.But should they be attended by a servant, he is to be gained, and therefore becomes little or no restraint. Besides this, every part of the house is so accessible by day and so the husband is completely nobody at home, so seldom visible, or, if visible, so perfectly a stranger to all who visit in his family, that the lover may easily escape unnoticed. This, however, will not always satisfy the Spanish ladies, who, being quick of sensibility and remarkably able for strong attachment, are miserable when their lover is out of sight. He must be present every moment in the day, whether in private or in public, in health or sickness, and must be everywhere invited to attend them. There have been recent examples of women, even of high station, who have shut themselves up for months, during the absence of their lovers; and this not merely from disgust but to avoid giving them offence. If the lady is at home, he is at her side. When she walks out (he leans upon her arm), when she takes her seat in an assembly, an empty chair is always left for him. And if she joins in a country dance, it is with him. As every lady dances two minuets at a ball, the first is with her lover, the second with a stranger. With the former, if she has any vivacity, i e makes it visible, and if she can move with grace, it then appears. But with the latter she evidently shows, not indifference, but disgust. And seems to look on her partner with disdain.
As soon as any lady marries, she is teased by numerous competitors for this distinguished behaviour, until she is fixed in her choice. When the unsuccessful candidates either retire or submit to become, in future, what might be called lovers of the brazier, without any pretensions beyond that of sitting round the embers to warm themselves in winter.
It is reckoned disgraceful to be fickle. Yet innumerable instances are seen of ladies who often change their lovers. In this there is a natural progression, for it cannot be imagined, that women of superior understandings, early in life distinguished for delicacy of sentiment, for prudence and for elevation of their minds, should hastily arrive at the extreme, where passion triumphs, and where all regard for decency is lost. As for others, they soon finish the career. It is, however, humiliating to see some who appear to have been designed by nature to command the reverence of mankind at last degraded and sunk to low opinion of the world, as to be never mentioned but with contempt. These have changed so often and become so unfaithful to every engagement that universally despised then end with having no lover.
I have observed that jealousy is seldom, if ever, to be discovered in a husband. But this cannot be said in favour of a new connection, because both parties are tormented by suspicion. This, it must be confessed, is natural. For as both are conscious that there is no other bond between them but the precarious bond of mutual affection, each must tremble at the approach off anyone who might interrupt their union. Hence they are constantly engaged in watching each other's looks and, for want of confidence, renounce in great measure the charms of social intercourse. Even in public they live as if they were alone, abstracted and absorbed, attentive only to each other. He must not take notice of any other lady. And, if any other gentlemen should converse with her, in a few minutes she appears confused and filled with fear that she may have given offence. In all probability she has and, should she be the first duchess in the land and he only a non-commissioned officer in the army, she may be treated with personal indignity. And we have heard of one who was dragged by her hair about the room. But if, instead of giving she has taken the offence, even the more delicate will fly like a tigress at his eyes and beat him in the face till he is black and blue. It sometimes happens that a lady becomes weary of her first choice, her fancy has become fixed on some new object. And she wishes to change. But the former, whose vanity is flattered by the connection, is not willing to dissolve it. In lower life, this moment gives occasion to many of those assassinations which abound in Spain. But in the higher classes, among whom the dagger is proscribed, the first possessor – if a man of spirit – maintains possession and the lady dares not discard him, lest an equal combat should prove fatal to the man of her affections. In this contest, the husband is out of sight and tells for nothing.
In a Catholic country, with such depravity of morals, it may naturally be enquired what becomes of conscience, and where is discipline? It is well known that all are under obligation to confess, at least once a year, before they receive the eucharist. Everyone is at liberty to choose his confessor and priest. But before he leaves the altar, he takes a certificate that he has been there and this he delivers to the curate of his own parish, under pain of excommunication should he fail to do so. When, therefore, a married woman appears, year after year, before her confessor to acknowledge that she has been and still continues to be living in adultery, how can he grant her absolution or how can he be moderate in the penance he enjoins? Without penance, and unless the priest is satisfied there is contrition, with full purpose of amendment, there can be no absolution, no participation in the eucharist. And in the neglect of this excommunication follows. Yet, from the universal prevalence of this offence, we may be certain there must be some way of evading the rigour of the law. Nothing is more easy. As for the penance, it is imposed by those who can have compassion of the frailties of mankind and is, therefore, scarcely worthy to be mentioned. In many instances it is ridiculous. Were any confessor severe, he would have few at his confessional. The absolution is commonly a more serious business because the penitent must no only testify contrition but must give some token of amendment by abstaining, at least for a season, from the commission of the crime which is the subject-matter of confession. The first absolution may be easily obtained. But, when the offender comes year after year with the same confession, if he will obtain absolution, he must change his confessor. And this practice is not only disgraceful but sometimes ineffectual. Here then it is needful to adopt some new expedient. Two naturally present themselves. For either some priest, destitute of principle, will be found who for some consideration will furnish billets. Or else, which is the prevailing practice in Madrid, the common prostitutes, conferring and receiving the hold sacrament in many churches and collecting a multitude of billets, either sell or give them to their friends. I have certificates before me. As these carry neither name nor signature, they are easily transferred.
The principal lovers of the great cities are the canons of the cathedrals. But where the military reside, they take their choice and leave the refuse[rubbish] for the church.
More on the clergy's activities tomorrow . . . .
* Joseph Townsend (1739-1816) was a physician, geologist and vicar of Pewsey in Wiltshire, perhaps best known for his 1786 treatise A Dissertation on the Poor Laws in which he expounded a naturalistic theory of economics and opposed state provision, either outdoor or otherwise. Educated at Cambridge, Townsend was ordained in the Church of England in 1763 and then studied Medicine at Edinburgh, he remained a practising Anglican throughout his life. He was personal chaplain to the Duke of Atholl from 1769 and accompanied him on the 'grand tour'. In the field of medicine, Townsend was noted for the introduction of 'Townsend's Mixture' of Mercury and Potasium Iodide, as a treatment for syphilis. He defended the biblical creation story in The Character of Moses as an Historian, Recording Events from the Creation to the Deluge(1813).