Subscribe for ad free access & additional features for teachers. Authors: 267, Books: 3,607, Poems & Short Stories: 4,435, Forum Members: 71,154, Forum Posts: 1,238,602, Quizzes: 344

Before the Bull-fight

If all Andalusians are potential gaol-birds they are also potential bull-fighters. It is impossible for foreigners to realise how firmly the love of that pastime is engrained in all classes. In other countries the gift that children love best is a box of soldiers, but in Spain it is a miniature ring with tin bulls, picadors on horseback and toreros. From their earliest youth boys play at bull-fighting, one of them taking the bull's part and charging with the movements peculiar to that animal, while the rest make passes with their coats or handkerchiefs. Often, to increase the excitement of the game, they have two horns fixed on a piece of wood. You will see them playing it at every street corner all day long, and no amusement can rival it; with the result that by the time a boy is fifteen he has acquired considerable skill in the exercise, and a favourite entertainment then is to hire a bull-calf for an afternoon and practise with it. Every urchin in Andalusia knows the names of the most prominent champions and can tell you their merits.

The bull-fight is the national spectacle; it excites Spaniards as nothing else can, and the death of a famous torero is more tragic than the loss of a colony. Seville looks upon itself as the very home and centre of the art. The good king Ferdinand VII.--as precious a rascal as ever graced a throne--founded in Seville the first academy for the cultivation of tauromachy, and bull-fighters swagger through the Sierpes in great numbers and the most faultless costume.

There are only five great bull-fights in a year at Seville, namely, on Easter day, on the three days of the fair, and on Corpus Christi. But during the summer novilladas are held every Sunday, with bulls of three years old and young fighters. Long before an important corrida there is quite an excitement in the town. Gaudy bills are posted on the walls with the names of the performers and the proprietor of the bulls; crowds stand round reading them breathlessly, discussing with one another the chances of the fray; the papers give details and forecasts as in England they do for the better cause of horse-racing! And the journeyings of the matador are announced as exactly as with us the doings of the nobility and gentry.

The great matador, Mazzantini or Guerrita, arrives the day before the fight, and perhaps takes a walk in the Sierpes. People turn to look at him and acquaintances shake his hand, pleased that all the world may know how friendly they are with so great a man. The hero himself is calm and gracious. He feels himself a person of merit, and cannot be unconscious that he has a fortune of several million pesetas bringing in a reasonable interest. He talks with ease and assurance, often condescends to joke, and elegantly waves his hand, sparkling with diamonds of great value.

       *      *      *      *      *      *      *

Many persons have described a bull-fight, but generally their emotions have overwhelmed them so that they have seen only part of one performance, and consequently have been obliged to use an indignant imagination to help out a very faulty recollection. This is my excuse for giving one more account of an entertainment which can in no way be defended. It is doubtless vicious and degrading; but with the constant danger, the skill displayed, the courage, the hair-breadth escapes, the catastrophes, it is foolish to deny that any pastime can be more exciting.

The English humanity to animals is one of the best traits of a great people, and they justly thank God they are not as others are. Can anything more horrid be imagined than to kill a horse in the bull-ring, and can any decent hack ask for a better end when he is broken down, than to be driven to death in London streets or to stand for hours on cab ranks in the rain and snow of an English winter? The Spaniards are certainly cruel to animals; on the other hand, they never beat their wives nor kick their children. From the dog's point of view I would ten times sooner be English, but from the woman's--I have my doubts. Some while ago certain papers, anxious perhaps to taste the comfortable joys of self-righteousness, turned their attention to the brutality of Spaniards, and a score of journalists wrote indignantly of bull-fights. At the same time, by a singular chance, a prize-fighter was killed in London, and the Spanish papers printed long tirades against the gross, barbaric English. The two sets of writers were equally vehement, inaccurate and flowery; but what seemed most remarkable was that each side evidently felt quite unaffected horror and disgust for the proceedings of the other. Like persons of doubtful character inveighing against the vices of the age, both were so carried away by moral enthusiasm as to forget that there was anything in their own histories which made this virtuous fury a little absurd. There is really a good deal in the point of view.


William Somerset Maugham