I am delighted with Barcelona. It is a beautiful city, especially the new part, with a mixture of Spanish, French, and Italian character. The climate is soft and voluptuous, the heats being tempered by the sea breezes. Instead of the naked desert which surrounds Madrid, we have here, between the sea and the mountains, a rich and fertile plain, with villas buried among groves and gardens, in which grow the orange, the citron, the pomegranate, and other fruits of southern climates.
We have here, too, an excellent Italian opera, which is a great resource to me. Indeed, the theatre is the nightly place of meeting of the diplomatic corps and various members of the court, and there is great visiting from box to box. The greatest novelty in our diplomatic circle is the Turkish Minister, who arrived lately at Barcelona on a special mission to the Spanish Court. His arrival made quite a sensation here, there having been no representative from the Court of the Grand Sultan for more than half a century. He was for a time quite the lion; everything he said and did was the theme of conversation. I think, however, he has quite disappointed the popular curiosity. Something oriental and theatrical was expected — a Turk in a turban and bagging trousers, with a furred robe, a long pipe, a huge beard and moustache, a bevy of wives, and a regiment of black slaves. Instead of this, the Turkish Ambassador turned out to be an easy, pleasant, gentleman-like man, in a frock coat, white drill pantaloons, black cravat, white kid gloves, and dandy cane ; with nothing Turkish in his costume but a red cap with a long, blue silken tassel. In fact, he is a complete man of society, who has visited various parts of Europe, is European in his manners, and, when he takes off his Turkish cap, has very much the look of a well-bred Italian gentleman. I confess I should rather have seen him in the magnificent costume of the East; and I regret that that costume, endeared to me by the Arabian Nights’ Entertainments, that joy of my boyhood, is fast giving way to the levelling and monotonous prevalence of French and English fashions. The Turks, too, are not aware of what they lose by the change of costume. In their oriental dress, they are magnificent-looking men, and seem superior in dignity of form to Europeans; but, once stripped of turban and flowing robes, and attired in the close-fitting, trimly cut modern dress, and they shrink in dimensions, and turn out a very ill-made race. Notwithstanding his Christian dress, however, I have found the Effendi a very intelligent and interesting companion. He is extremely well informed, has read much and observed still more, and is very frank and animated in conversation. Unfortunately, his sojourn here will be but for a very few days longer. He intends to make the tour of Spain, and to visit those parts especially which contain historical remains of the time of the Moors and Arabs. Granada will be a leading object of curiosity with him. I should have delighted to visit it in company with him.
I know, all this while you are dying to have another chapter about the little Queen, so I must gratify you. I applied for an audience shortly after my arrival, having two letters to deliver to the Queen from President Tyler; one congratulating her on her majority, the other condoling with her on the death of her aunt. The next day, at six o’clock in the evening, was appointed for the audience, which was granted at the same time to the members of the diplomatic corps who had travelled in company with me, and to two others who had preceded us. It was about the time when the Queen drives out to take the air. Troops were drawn up in the square in front of the palace, awaiting her appearance, and a considerable crowd assembled. As we ascended the grand staircase, we found groups of people on the principal landing places, waiting to get a sight of royalty. This palace had a peculiar interest for me. Here, as often occurs in my unsettled and wandering life, I was coming back again on the footsteps of former times. In 1829, when I passed a few days in Barcelona, on my way to England to take my post as Secretary of Legation, this palace was inhabited by the Count de Espagne, at that time Captain General of the province. I had heard much of the cruelty of his disposition, and the rigor of his military rule. He was the terror of the Catalans, and hated by them as much as he was feared. I dined with him, in company with two or three English gentlemen, residents of the place, with whom he was on familiar terms. In entering his palace, I felt that I was entering the abode of a tyrant. His appearance was characteristic. He was about forty-five years of age, of the middle size, but well set and strongly built, and became his military dress. His face was rather handsome, his demeanor courteous, and at table he became social and jocose ; but I thought I could see a lurking devil in his eye, and something hardhearted and derisive in his laugh. The English guests were his cronies, and, with them, I perceived his jokes were coarse, and his humor inclined to buffoonery. At that time, Maria Christina, then a beautiful Neapolitan princess in the flower of her years, was daily expected at Barcelona, on her way to Madrid to be married to Ferdinand VII. While the Count and his guests were seated at table, after dinner, enjoying the wine and cigars, one of the petty functionaries of the city, equivalent to a deputy alderman, was announced. The Count winked to the company, and promised a scene for their amusement. The city dignitary came bustling into the apartment with an air of hurried zeal and momentous import, as if about to make some great revelation. He had just received intelligence, by letter, of the movements of the Princess, and the time when she might be expected to arrive, and had hastened to communicate it at headquarters. There was nothing in the intelligence that had not been previously known to the Count, and that he had not communicated to us during dinner; but he affected to receive the information with great surprise, made the functionary repeat it over and over, each time deepening the profundity of his attention ; fmally he bowed the city oracle quite out of the saloon, and almost to the head of the staircase, and sent him home swelling with the idea that he had communicated a state secret, and fixed himself in the favor of the Count. The latter returned to us laughing immoderately at the manner in which he had played off the little dignitary, and mimicking the voice and manner with which the latter had imparted his important nothings. It was altogether a high farce, more comic in the acting than in the description; but it was the sportive gambolling of a tiger, and I give it to show how the tyrant, in his hours of familiarity, may play the buffoon.
The Count de Espagne was a favorite general of Ferdinand, and, during the life of that monarch, continued in high military command. In the civil wars, he espoused the cause of Don Carlos, and was charged with many sanguinary acts. His day of retribution came. He fell into the hands of his enemies, and was murdered, it is said, with savage cruelty, while being conducted a prisoner among the mountains. Such are the bloody reverses which continually occur in this eventful country, especially in these revolutionary times.
I thought of all these things as I ascended the grand staircase. Fifteen years had elapsed since I took leave of the Count at the top of this staircase, and it seemed as if his hardhearted, derisive laugh still sounded in my ears. He was then a loyal subject and a powerful commander; he had since been branded as a traitor and a rebel, murdered by those whom he had oppressed, and hurried into a bloody grave. The beautiful young Princess, whose approach was at that time the theme of every tongue, had since gone through all kinds of reverses. She had been on a throne, she had been in exile, she was now a widowed Queen, a subject of her own daughter, and a sojourner in this palace.
On entering the royal apartments, I recognized some of the old courtiers whom I had been accustomed to see about the royal person at Madrid, and was cordially greeted by them, for at Barcelona we all come together sociably as at a watering place. The “introducer of ambassadors” (the Chevalier de Arana) conducted my companions and myself into a saloon, where we waited to be summoned into the royal presence. I, being the highest in diplomatic rank of the party present, was first summoned. On entering, I found the little Queen standing in the centre of the room, and, at a little distance behind her, the Marchioness of Santa Cruz, first lady in attendance…
Pierre Munroe Irving, The life and letters of Washington Irving (1883).