« PreviousContinue »
Extract from a Treatise on the Amusements of the Poor. By DON GASPAR MELCHOR DE JOVELLANOS, late Minister of Grace and Justice in Spain.
This Treatise, for the knowledge of which we are indebted to LORD HOLLAND, has not yet been published. The author commences with a Sketch of the Roman exhibitions in Spain, and of the Diversions introduced into that Country by the northern Barbarians. He then takes a view of the Spanish Theatre, and offers suggestions for refining and exalting its Dramatic Character. He proceeds to take notice of their Bull feasts, and of the bad effects which those barbarous spectacles have produced on the national character. He goes on to make the following observations on the Amusements of the labouring class; observations which evince a benevolent and discriminating mind. They shew how much of the present feebleness and debasement of the Spanish character, is to be ascribed to the unwise and narrow principles of their Govern
ment; and how little of it results from any natural defect in the people. The author is said to be now languishing in the dungeons of Palma; imprisoned without accusation, and condemned without trial.
H E labouring class of Society require diversions, but not exhibitions; the government is not called upon to divert them, but to permit them to divert themselves. For the time which they can devote to recreation, they easily find amusement for themselves. Let them be protected in the enjoyment of them. A bright sky and fine weather, on a holiday, which will leave them at liberty to walk, run, throw the bar, to play at ball, coits, or skittles, or to dance on the grass, will yield them gratification and contentment. At so cheap a rate may a whole people, however numerous, be delighted and amused,
How happens it then, that the majority of the people of Spain have no diversion at all? For every one who has travelled through our provinces must have made this melancholy remark. Even on the greatest festivals, there reigns throughout the market places and
streets, a gloomy stillness, which cannot be remarked without the mingled emotions of surprise and pity. The few persons who leave their houses, seem to be driven from them by listlessness to the threshold, the market, or the church-door. There, muffled in their cloaks, leaning against some corner, seated on some bench, or lounging backwards and forwards, without object, aim, or purpose, they pass their hours, without mirth, recreation, or amusement. When you add to this picture, the dreariness and filth of the villages, the poor and slovenly dress of the inhabitants, the gloominess and silence of their air, the laziness, the want of concert and union so striking every where, who but would be afflicted by so mournful a phænomenon?
This is not indeed the place to expose the errors which conspire to produce it; but whatever those errors may be, one point is clear-that they are all to be found in the laws. Without wandering from my subject, I may be permitted to observe, that the chief mistake lies in the faulty police of our villages. Many magistrates are misled by an ill-judged zeal, to suppose that the perfection of municipal government consists in the subjection
of the people. Hence any noise or disturb ance, is termed a riot, and becomes the subject of a criminal proceeding, involving in its consequences, examinations and arrests, imprisonments and fines, with all the train of legal persecutions and vexations. Under such an oppressive police, the people grow dispirited and disheartned; and sacrificing their inclinations to their security, they abjure diversions, which, though publick and innocent, are replete with embarrassments; and have recourse to solitude and inaction, dull and painful indeed to their feelings, but at least unmolested by law, and unattended with danger.
The same system has occasioned numberless regulations of police, not only injurious to the liberties, but prejudicial to the welfare and prosperity of the villages, yet not less harshly or less rigorously enforced on that account. There are some places where music and ringing of bells, others where dances and wedding suppers, are prohibited. In one village the inhabitants must retire to their houses at the sound of the evening bell; in another they must not appear in the street
without a light; they must not loiter about the corners, or stop in the porches; and in all they are subject to similar restraints and privations.
Even the province of Asturias, in which I live, remarkable for the natural cheerfulness and innocent manners of its inhabitants, is not exempt from the hardships of similar regulations. The dispersion of its population fortunately prevents that municipal police, which has been contrived for regular villages and towns; but the cottagers assemble for their diversions at a sort of wake, called Romerias, or pilgrimages. And there it is that the regulations of the police pursue and molest them. Sticks, which are used more on account of the inequality of the country than as a precaution for self-defence, are prohibited in these wakes. Men-dancers are forbidden; those of women must close early in the evening; and the wakes themselves, the sole diversion of these innocent and laborious villagers, must break up at the hour of evening prayer. How can they reconcile themselves with any cheerfulness to such vexatious interference? It may indeed *M