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Since the days of Southey the romantic literature of Spain has not received from English writers and critics the amount of study and attention it undoubtedly deserves. In no European country did the seeds of Romance take root so readily or blossom so speedily and luxuriantly as in Spain, which perhaps left the imprint of its national character more deeply upon the literature of chivalry than did France or England. When we think of chivalry, do we not think first of Spain, of her age-long struggle against the pagan invaders of Europe, her sensitiveness to all that concerned personal and national honour, of the names of the Cid Campeador, Gayferos, and Gonzalvo de Cordova, gigantic shadows in harness, a pantheon of heroes, which the martial legends of few lands can equal and none surpass. The epic of our British Arthur, the French chansons de gestes, are indebted almost as much to folklore as to the imagination of the singers who first gave them literary shape. But in the romances of Spain we find that folklore plays an inconsiderable part, and that her chivalric fictions are either the offspring of historic happenings or of that brilliant and glowing imagination which illumines the whole expanse of Peninsular literature.
I have given more space to the proofs of connexion between the French chansons de gestes and the Spanish cantares de gesta than most of my predecessors who have written of Castilian romantic story. Indeed, with the exception of Mr Fitzmaurice Kelly, whose admirable work in the field of Spanish letters forms so happy an exception to our national neglect of a great literature, I am aware of no English writer who has concerned himself with this subject. My own opinion regarding the almost total lack of Moorish influence upon the Spanish romanceros is in consonance with that of critics much better qualified to pass judgment upon such a question. But for my classification of the ballad I am indebted to no one, and this a long devotion to the study of ballad literature perhaps entitles me to make. I can claim, too, that my translations are not mere paraphrases, but provide renderings of tolerable accuracy.
I have made an earnest endeavour to provide English readers with a conspectus of Spanish romantic literature as expressed in its cantares de gesta, its chivalric novels, its romanceros or ballads, and some of its lighter aspects. The reader will find full accounts and summaries of all the more important works under each of these heads, many of which have never before been described in English.
If the perusal of this book leads to the more general study of the noble and useful Castilian tongue on the part of but a handful of those who read it, its making will have been justified. The real brilliance and beauty of these tales lie behind the curtains of a language unknown to most British people, and can only be liberated by the spell of study. This book contains merely the poor shadows and reflected wonders of screened and hidden marvels.
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