CH. XIV. -- Santillane's visit to the poet Nunez, the company and conversation.
ONE day, after dinner, a fancy seized me to go and see the poet of the Asturias, feeling a sort of curiosity to know on what floor he lodged. I repaired to the house of Signor Don Bertrand Gomex Del Ribero, and asked for Nunez. He does not live here now, said the porter, but over the way, in apartments at the back of the house. I went thither, and crossing a small court, entered an unfurnished parlour, where my friend Fabricio was sitting at table, doing the honours to five or six guests from the hamlet and liberty of Parnassus.
They were at the latter end of a feast, and of course at the beginning of an affray; but as soon as they perceived me, a dead silence succeeded to their obstreperous argumentation. Nunez rose from his seat with much pomp and circumstance of politeness to receive me, saying: Gentlemen, Signor de Santillane! He does me the honour to visit me under this humble roof; as the favourite of the prime minister, you will all join with me in tendering your humble services. At this introduction, the worshipful company got up and made their best bows; for my rank could not fail of procuring me respect from the manufacturers of dedications. Though I was neither hungry nor thirsty, it was impossible not to sit down and drink a toast in such society.
My presence appearing to be a restraint, Gentlemen, said I, it should seem that I have interrupted your conversation: resume it, or you drive me away. My learned friends, said Fabricio, were discussing the "Iphigenia" of Euripides. The bachelor, Melchior de Villégas, a clever man of the first rank in the republic of letters, resumed the topic by asking Don Jacinto de Romerate which was the point of interest in that tragedy. Don Jacinto ascribed it to the imminent danger of Iphigenia. The bachelor contended, offering to prove his proposition by all the evidence admissible at the bar of logic or criticism, that the danger of a trumpery girl had nothing to do with the real sympathy of that affecting piece. What has to do with it then? bawled the old licentiate Gabriel of Leon indignantly. It turns with the wind, replied the bachelor.
The whole company burst into a shout of laughter at this assertion, which they were far from considering as serious; and I myself thought that Melchior had only launched it by way of adding the zest of wit to the severity of critical discussion. But I was out in my calculation respecting the character of that eminent scholar: he had not a grain of sprightliness or pleasantry in his whole composition. Laugh as you please, gentlemen, replied he, very coolly; I maintain that there is no circumstance but the wind, unless it be the weathercock, to interest, to strike, to rouse the passions of the spectator. Figure to yourselves a multitudinous army, assembled for the purpose of laying siege to Troy; take into account the eager haste of the officers and common men to carry their enterprise into execution, that they may return with their best legs foremost into Greece, where they have left everything most dear to them, their household gods, their wives and their children: all this while a mischievous wind from the wrong quarter keeps them port-bound at Aulis, and, as it were, drives a nail into the very head of the expedition; so that till better weather, it was impossible to go and lay siege to Priam's town. Wind and weather therefore make up the interest of this tragedy. My good wishes are with the Greeks: my whole faculties are wrapped up in the success of their design; the sailing of their fleet is with me the only hinge of the fable, and I look at the danger of Iphigenia with somewhat of a self-interested complacency, because by her death the winding up of the story into a brisk and favourable gale was likely to be accelerated,
As soon as Villégas had finished his criticism, the laugh burst out more than ever, at his expense. Nunez was sly enough to side with him, that a fairer scope and broader mark might be presented to the shafts of malicious wit which were let fly from all the quarters in the shipman's card, at this poster of the sea and land. But the bachelor, eyeing them all with sublime indifference and supreme contempt, gave them to understand how low in the list of the ignorant and vulgar they ranked in his estimation. Every moment did I expect to see these vapouring spirits kindle into a blaze, and wage war against the hairy honours of each other's brainless skulls: but the joke was not carried to that length; they confined their hostilities to opprobrious epithets, and took their leave when they had eaten and drunk as much as they could get.
After their departure, I asked Fabricio why he had separated himself from his treasurer, and whether they had quarrelled. Quarrelled! answered he: Heaven defend me from such a misfortune! I am on better terms than ever with Signor Don Bertrand, who gave his consent to my living apart from him: here therefore I receive my friends, and take my pleasure with them unmolested. You know very well that I am not of a temper to lay up treasures for those who are to come after me; and as it happens luckily, I am now in circumstances to give my little classical entertainments every day. I am delighted at it, my dear Nunez, replied I, and once more wish you joy on the success of your last tragedy: the great Lope, by his eight hundred dramatic pieces, never made a quarter of the money which you have got by the damnation of your "Count de Saldagna."