It is one of the peculiarities of revolutions that just as the people seem about to take a great start and to open a new era, they suffer themselves to be ruled by the delusions of the past and surrender all the power and influence they have so dearly won into the hands of men who represent, or are supposed to represent, the popular movement of a by-gone epoch. Espartero is one of those traditional men whom the people are wont to take upon their backs at moments of social crises, and whom, like the ill-natured old fellow that obstinately clasped his legs about the neck of Sindbad the sailor, they afterward find it difficult to get rid of. Ask a Spaniard of the socalled Progressist School what is the political value of Espartero, and he will promptly reply that “Espartero represents the unity of the great liberal party; Espartero is popular because he came from the people; his popularity works exclusively for the cause of the Progresistas.” It is true that he is the son of an artisan, who has climbed up to be the Regent of Spain; and that, having entered the army as a common soldier, he left it as a Field-Marshal. But if he be the symbol of the unity of the great liberal party, it can only be that indifferent point of unity in which all extremes are neutralized. And as to the popularity of the Progresistas, we do not exaggerate in saying that it was lost from the moment it became transferred from the bulk of that party to this single individual.
We need no other proof of the ambiguous and exceptional character of Espartero's greatness, beyond the simple fact that, so far, nobody has been able to account for it. While his friends take refuge in allegoric generalities, his enemies, alluding to a strange feature of his private life, declare him but a lucky gambler. Both, then, friends and enemies, are at an equal loss to discover any logical connection between the man himself, and the fame and the name of the man.
Espartero's military merits are as much contested as his political shortcomings are incontestable. In a voluminous biography, published by Señor de Florez, much fuss is made about his military prowess and generalship as shown in the provinces of Charcas, Paz, Arequipa, Potosi and Cochabamba, where he fought under the orders of Gen. Morillo, then charged with the reduction of the South American States under the authority of the Spanish Crown. But the general impression produced by his South American feats of arms upon the excitable mind of his native country is sufficiently characterized by his being designated as the chief of the Ayacuchismo, and his partisans as Ayacuchos, in allusion to the unfortunate battle at Ayacucho, in which Peru and South America were definitively lost for Spain. He is, at all events, a very extraordinary hero whose historical baptism dates from a defeat, instead of a success. In the seven years' war against the Carlists, he never signalized himself by one of those daring strokes by which Narvaez, his rival, became early known as an iron-nerved soldier. He had certainly the gift of making the best of small successes, while it was mere luck that Moretos betrayed to him the last forces of the Pretender, Cabrera's rising in 1840 being only a posthumous attempt to galvanize the dry bones of Carlism. Señor de Marliani, himself one of Espartero's admirers, and the historian of modern Spain, cannot but own that the seven years' war is to be compared with nothing but the feuds waged in the tenth century between the petty lords of Gaul, when success was not the result of victory. It appears, by another mischance, that of all the peninsular deeds of Espartero, that which made the liveliest impression upon the public memory was, if not exactly a defeat, at least a singularly strange performance in a hero of liberty. He became renowned as the bombarder of cities –of Barcelona and Seville. If the Spaniards, says a writer, should ever paint him as Mars, we should see the god figuring as a “wall-batterer.”
When Christina was forced, in 1840, to resign her Regency and to fly from Spain, Espartero assumed, against the wishes of a very large section of the Progresistas, the supreme authority within the limits of Parliamentary Government. He surrounded himself with a sort of camarilla, and affected the airs of a military dictator, without really elevating himself above the mediocrity of a constitutional king. His favor extended to Moderados rather than to old Progressistas, who, with a few exceptions, were excluded from office. Without conciliating his enemies, he gradually estranged his friends. Without the courage to break through the shackles of the parliamentary regime, he did not know how to accept it, how to manage it, or how to transform it into an instrument of action. During his three years' dictatorship, the revolutionary spirit was broken step by step, through endless compromises, and the dissensions within the progressist party were allowed to reach such a pitch as to enable the Moderados to regain exclusive power by a coup de main. Thus Espartero became so divested of authority that his own Embassador at Paris conspired against him with Christina and Narvaez: and so poor in resources, that he found no means to ward off their miserable intrigues, or the petty tricks of Louis Philippe. So little did he understand his own position that he made an inconsiderate stand against public opinion when it simply wanted a pretext to break him to pieces.
In May, 1843, his popularity having long since faded away, he retained Lineage, Zurbaro and the other members of his military camarilla, whose dismissal was loudly called for; he dismissed the Lopez Ministry, who commanded a large majority in the Chamber of Deputies, and he stubbornly refused an amnesty for the exiled Moderados, then claimed on all hands, by Parliament, by the people and by the army itself. This demand simply expressed the public disgust with his administration. Then, at once, a hurricane of pronunciamentos against the “tyrant Espartero” shook the Peninsula from one end to the other; a movement to be compared only, from the rapidity of its spreading, to the present one. Moderados and Progressistas combined for the one object of getting rid of the Regent. The crisis took him quite unawares –the fatal hour found him unprepared.
Narvaez, accompanied by O'Donnell, Concha and Pezuela, landed with a handful of men at Valencia. On their side all was rapidity and action, considerate audacity, energetic decision. On the side of Espartero all was helpless hesitation, deadly delay, apathetic irresolution, indolent weakness. While Narvaez raised the siege of Teruel, and marched into Arragon, Espartero retired from Madrid, and consumed whole weeks in unaccountable inactivity at Albacete. When Narvaez had won over the corps of Seoane and Zurbaro at Torrejon, and was marching on Madrid, Espartero at length effected a junction with Van Halen, for the useless and odious bombardment of Seville. He then fled from station to station, at every step of his retreat deserted by his troops, till at last he reached the coast. When he embarked at Cadiz, that town, the last where he retained a party, bade its hero farewell by also pronouncing against him. An Englishman who resided in Spain during the catastrophe, gives a graphic description of the sliding-scale of Espartero's greatness: “It was not the tremendous crash of an instant, after a well-fought field, but a little and bit by bit descent, after no fighting at all, from Madrid to Ciudad Real, from Ciudad Real to Albacete, from Albacete to Cordova, from Cordova to Seville, from Seville to Port St. Mary, and thence to the wide ocean. He fell from idolatry to enthusiasm, from enthusiasm to attachment, from attachment to respect, from respect to indifference, from indifference to contempt, from contempt to hatred, and from hatred he fell into the sea.”
How could Espartero have now again become the savior of the country, and “sword of the revolution,” as he is called? This event would be quite incomprehensible were it not for the ten years of reaction Spain has suffered under the brutal dictatorship of Narvaez, and the brooding yoke of the Queen's minions, who supplanted him. Extensive and violent epochs of reaction are wonderfully fitted for reestablishing the fallen men of revolutionary miscarriages. The greater the imaginative powers of a people –and where is imagination greater than in the south of Europe?–the more irresistible their impulse to oppose to individual incarnations of despotism individual incarnations of the revolution. As they cannot improvise them at once, they excavate the dead men of their previous movements. Was not Narvaez himself on the point of growing popular at the expense of Sartorius? The Espartero who, on the 29th of July, held his triumphant entrance into Madrid, was no real man; he was a ghost, a name, a reminiscence.
It is but due to justice to record that Espartero never professed to be anything but a constitutional monarchist; and if there had ever existed any doubt upon that point, it must have disappeared before the enthusiastic reception he met with during his exile, at Windsor Castle and from the governing classes of England. When he arrived in London the whole aristocracy flocked to his abode, the Duke of Wellington and Palmerston at their head. Aberdeen, in his quality of Foreign Minister, sent him an invitation to be presented to the Queen; the Lord Mayor and the Aldermen of the city entertained him with gastronomic homages at the Mansion House; and when it became known that the Spanish Cincinnatus passed his leisure hours in gardening, there was no Botanical, or Horticultural, or Agricultural Society which was not eager to present him with membership. He was quite the lion of that metropolis. At the end of 1847 an amnesty recalled the Spanish exiles, and the decree of Queen Isabella appointed him a Senator. He was, however, not allowed to leave England before Queen Victoria had invited him and his Duchess to her table, adding the extraordinary honor of offering them a night's lodging at Windsor Castle. It is true, we believe, that this halo thrown round his person was somewhat connected with the supposition that Espartero had been and still was the representative of British interests in Spain. It is no less true that the Espartero demonstration looked something like a demonstration against Louis Philippe.
On his return to Spain he received deputation upon deputation, gratulations upon gratulations, and the city of Barcelona dispatched an express messenger to apologize for its bad behavior in 1843. But has anybody ever heard his name mentioned during the fatal period from January, 1846, till the late events? Has he ever raised his voice during that dead silence of degraded Spain? Is there recorded one single act of patriotic resistance on his part? He quietly retires to his estate at Logroño, cultivating his cabbages and flowers, waiting his time. He did not go even to the revolution till the revolution came for him. He did more than Mahomet. He expected the mountain to come to him, and the mountain came. Still there is one exception to be mentioned. When the revolution of February burst out, followed by the general European earthquake, he caused to be published by Señor de Principe, and some other friends, a little pamphlet entitled “Espartero, his Past, his Present, his Future”, to remind Spain that it still harbored the man of the past, the present, and the future. The revolutionary movement soon subsiding in France, the man of the past, of the present, and of the future once more sank into oblivion.
Espartero was born at Granatula, in La Mancha, and like his famous fellow countryman, he also has his fixed idea –the Constitution; and his Dulcinea del Toboso –Queen Isabella. On January 8, 1848, when he returned from his English exile to Madrid, he was received by the Queen and took leave of her with the following words: “I pray your Majesty to call me whenever you want an arm to defend, or a heart to love you.” Her Majesty has now called and her knight-errant appears, smoothing the revolutionary waves, enervating the masses by a delusive calm, allowing Christina, San Luis and the rest to hide themselves in the palace, and loudly professing his unbroken faith in the words of the innocent Isabella.
It is known that this very trustworthy Queen, whose features are said to assume year after year a more striking resemblance to those of Ferdinand VII, of infamous memory, had her majority proclaimed on Nov. 15, 1843. She was then only 13 years old on Nov. 21 of the same year. Olozaga, whom Lopez had constituted her tutor for three months, formed a Ministry obnoxious to the Camarilla and the Cortes newly elected under the impression of the first success of Narvaez. He wanted to dissolve the Cortes, and obtained a royal decree signed by the Queen giving him power to do so, but leaving the date of its promulgation blank. On the evening of the 28th, Olozaga had the decree delivered to him from the hands of the Queen. On the evening of the 29th he had another interview with her; but he had hardly left her when an under-Secretary of State came to his house, and informed him that he was dismissed, and demanded back the decree which he had forced the Queen to sign. Olozaga, a lawyer by profession, was too sharp a man to be ensnared in this way. He did not return the document till the following day, after having shown it to at least one hundred deputies, in proof that the signature of the Queen was in her usual, regular handwriting. On Dec. 13, Gonzalez Bravo, appointed as Premier, summoned the Presidents of the Chambers, the principal Madrid notables, Narvaez, the Marquis de la Santa Cruz, and others, to the Queen that she might make a declaration to them concerning what had passed between her and Olozaga on the evening of Nov. 28. The innocent little Queen led them into the room where she had received Olozaga, and enacted in a very lively, but rather overdone manner, a little drama for their instruction. Thus had Olozaga bolted the door, thus seized her dress, thus obliged her to sit down, thus conducted her hand, thus forced her signature to the decree, in one word, thus had he violated her royal dignity. During this scene Gonzalez Bravo took note of these declarations, while the persons present saw the alleged decree which appeared to be signed in a blotted and tremulous hand. Thus, on the solemn declaration of the Queen, Olozaga was to be condemned for the crime of laesa majestas, to be torn in pieces by four horses, or at the best, to be banished for life to the Philippines. But, as we have seen, he had taken his measures of precaution. Then followed seventeen days debate in the Cortes, creating a sensation greater even than that produced by the famous trial of Queen Caroline in England. Olozaga's defense in the Cortes contained among other things this passage: “If they tell us that the word of the Queen is to be believed without question, I answer, No! There is either a charge, or there is none. If there be, that word is a testimony, like any other, and to that testimony I oppose mine.” In the balance of the Cortes the word of Olozaga was found to be heavier than that of the Queen. Afterward he fled to Portugal to escape the assassins sent against him. This was Isabella's first entrechat on the political stage of Spain, and the first proof of her honesty. And this is the same little Queen whose words Espartero now exhorts the people to trust in, and to whom is offered, after eleven years' school for scandal, the “defending arm,” and the “loving heart” of the “Sword of the Revolution.” Our readers can judge whether the Spanish Revolution is likely to have any useful result or not.