Pure Castilian, like music as he spoke


William Henry Hudson

I was then nine or ten years old, and our guest was
a young Spanish gentleman, singularly handsome,
with a most engaging expression and manner.
He was on a journey from Buenos Ayres to a part in
our province some sixty or seventy leagues further
south, and after asking permission to pass the night
at our house, he explained that he had only one horse,
as he liked that way of travelling rather than the native
way of driving a tropilla before him, going at a furious
gallop from dawn to dark, and changing horses every
three or four leagues. Having but one horse, he had
to go in a leisurely way with many rests, and he liked
to call at many houses every day just to talk with the
people.

After supper, during which he charmed us with his conversation and pure Castilian, which was like music as he spoke it, we formed a circle before a wood fire in the dining-room and made him take the middle seat. For he had confessed that he performed on the guitar, and we all wanted to sit where we could see as well as listen. He tuned the instrument in a leisurely way, pausing often to continue the conversation with my parents, until at last, seeing how eager we all were, he began to play, and his music and style were strange to us, for he had no jigging tunes with fantastic flights and flourishes so much affected by our native guitarists. It was beautiful but serious music.

Then came another long pause and he talked again, and said the pieces he had been playing were composed by his chief favourite, Sarasate. He said that Sarasate had been one of the most famous guitarists in Spain, and had composed a good deal of music for the guitar before he had given it up for the violin. As a violinist he would win a European reputation, but in Spain they were sorry that he had abandoned the national instrument.

All he said was interesting, but we wanted more and more of his music, and he played less and less and at longer intervals, and at last he put the guitar down, and turning to my parents, said with a smile that he begged to be excused—that he could play no more for thinking. He owed it to them, he said, to tell them what he was thinking about; they would then know how much they had done for his pleasure that evening and how he appreciated it. He was, he continued, one of a large family, very united, all living with their parents at home; and in winter, which was cold in his part of Spain, their happiest time was in the evening when they would gather before a big fire of oak logs in their solar and pass the time with books and conversation and a little music and singing. Naturally, since he had left his country years ago, the thought of that time and those evenings had occasionally been in his mind—a passing thought and memory. On this evening it had come in a different way, less like a memory than a revival of the past, so that as he sat there among us, he was a boy back in Spain once more, sitting by the fire with his brothers and sisters and parents.

With that feeling in him he could not go on playing. And he thought it most strange that such an experience should have come to him for the first time in that place out on that great naked pampa, sparsely inhabited, where life was so rough, so primitive.

And while he talked we all listened—how eagerly!—drinking in his words, especially my mother, her eyes bright with the moisture rising in them; and she often afterwards recalled that evening guest, who was seen no more by us but had left an enduring image in our hearts.

— W H Hudson, Far Away and Long Ago (1918)


William Henry Hudson (1841–1922) was an author, naturalist, and ornithologist. He was born in the Quilmes Partido in Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, son of settlers from the US.

Hudson spent his youth studying the local flora and fauna and observing both natural and human dramas on what was then a lawless frontier, publishing his ornithological work in Proceedings of the Royal Zoological Society, initially in an English mingled with Spanish idioms. Hudson settled in England during 1869. He produced a series of ornithological studies, including Argentine Ornithology (1888–1899) and British Birds (1895), and later achieved fame with his books on the English countryside, including Hampshire Day (1903), Afoot in England (1909) and A Shepherd's Life (1910), which helped foster the back-to-nature movement of the 1920s and 1930s.

Hudson's best known works are his novel Green Mansions (1904), and his autobiography Far Away and Long Ago (1918). I read Green Mansion in the Classics Comics when I was a kid, and Far Away and Long Ago in school.

Contents | Green Mansion (excerpt)