The Spanish Craze: America's Fascination with the Hispanic World, 1779-1939

The Spanish Craze: America's Fascination with the Hispanic World, 1779-1939

by Richard L. Kagan


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The Spanish Craze is the compelling story of the centuries-long U.S. fascination with the history, literature, art, culture, and architecture of Spain. Richard L. Kagan offers a stunningly revisionist understanding of the origins of hispanidad in America, tracing its origins from the early republic to the New Deal.

As Spanish power and influence waned in the Atlantic World by the eighteenth century, her rivals created the “Black Legend,” which promoted an image of Spain as a dead and lost civilization rife with innate cruelty and cultural and religious backwardness. The Black Legend and its ambivalences influenced Americans throughout the nineteenth century, reaching a high pitch in the Spanish-American War of 1898. However, the Black Legend retreated soon thereafter, and Spanish culture and heritage became attractive to Americans for its perceived authenticity and antimodernism.

Although the Spanish craze infected regions where the Spanish New World presence was most felt—California, the American Southwest, Texas, and Florida—there were also early, quite serious flare-ups of the craze in Chicago, New York, and New England. Kagan revisits early interest in Hispanism among elites such as the Boston book dealer Obadiah Rich, a specialist in the early history of the Americas, and the writers Washington Irving and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He also considers later enthusiasts such as Angeleno Charles Lummis and the many writers, artists, and architects of the modern Spanish Colonial Revival in the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Spain’s political and cultural elites understood that the promotion of Spanish culture in the United States and the Western Hemisphere in general would help overcome imperial defeats while uniting Spaniards and those of Spanish descent into a singular raza whose shared characteristics and interests transcended national boundaries.

With elegant prose and verve, The Spanish Craze spans centuries and provides a captivating glimpse into distinct facets of Hispanism in monuments, buildings, and private homes; the visual, performing, and cinematic arts; and the literature, travel journals, and letters of its enthusiasts in the United States.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496207722
Publisher: UNP - Nebraska
Publication date: 03/01/2019
Pages: 640
Sales rank: 591,203
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 2.00(d)

About the Author

Richard L. Kagan is the emeritus Arthur O. Lovejoy Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of numerous books, including Clio and the Crown: The Politics of History in Medieval and Early Modern Spain and Urban Images of the Hispanic World, 1493–1793.

Read an Excerpt


Rival Empires

Spain had immense influence over the United States; but it was the influence of the whale over its captors — the charm of a huge, helpless, and profitable victim.

— Henry Adams

In 1889 Henry Adams published the first part of his History of the United States during the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. This history, which eventually encompassed nine volumes, is one that the historian and critic Garry Wills described in 2005 as "the non-fiction prose masterpiece of the nineteenth century in America." Wills applauded Adams's history for its attention to matters of economic and social history, its reliance on archival sources, the quality of the prose, and especially the thesis crediting the Jeffersonians with the creation of America's sense of national unity and purpose.

What escaped Wills's attention but captured mine is the short section with the running head "Spanish Court," found in chapter XIII and woven into the first volume of Adams's work. It is easy to skip over or miss, as the chapter rather confusingly begins with Adams's somewhat incongruous description of Napoleon as one of the most "picturesque" figures in modern history. It then segues into a discussion centered on the Spanish-American dispute over access to the Mississippi River, which ran through Louisiana and other territories that belonged to Spain. The United States was demanding that its citizens should have the freedom to navigate the river as far south as New Orleans, but Spain's ruler, King Charles IV (r. 1788–1808), refused to grant this concession on the grounds it would only serve to encourage further westward American expansion and thus pose a threat to Spanish Louisiana. The dispute was partially settled in 1795 when the American minister, Thomas Pinckney, and his Spanish counterpart, Manuel de Godoy, negotiated the Treaty of San Lorenzo (aka Pinckney's Treaty). This landmark agreement called for "a firm and inviolable Peace and sincere Friendship between His Catholic Majesty, his successors and subjects, and the United States and their Citizens without exception of persons or places." It also created the legal framework that would govern commerce between the two countries for a century to come. More to the point the treaty granted the United States shipping access to the Mississippi and the right to use New Orleans as a "port of deposit," and it put a temporary fix on yet another issue over which the two countries had been at odds — the boundary (along the thirty-first parallel) separating Georgia and the Spanish colony of Florida. Finally, the treaty obliged the two countries to respect each other's shipping so long as the vessels were not transporting contraband or involved in hostile actions of any sort.

Adams's account of these negotiations is still worth reading today, as it draws extensively on contemporary sources as well as his own research in French and Spanish archives. It also offers an introduction to the subject of this chapter: Spain's troubled and occasionally turbulent relations with the United States during the course of the nineteenth century, culminating in the Spanish-American War of 1898. These conflicts centered on disputes over both territory and trade but also involved differences in political culture and the distance separating Spain's conservative monarchy from the democratic institutions of the United States. Religion was also a factor: the overwhelmingly Protestant United States, the self-styled champion of religious liberty, had little in common with Spain, which was overwhelmingly Catholic and hostile to the separation of church and state. Other differences arose from long- standing anti-Spanish prejudices connected with the Black Legend and the tendency of U.S. observers to cast Spain, its leaders, and its people in a decidedly negative light. Adams hinted at these prejudices in a series of fascinating but negative thumbnail biographies of Charles IV; his queen, María Luisa de Parma; and the other Spaniards with whom Pinckney had to deal. Adams dismisses the king as little more than amiable, fun- loving "nullity" while suggesting that María Luisa's character reflected the "rottenness" of the society of which she was part. As for Godoy, he was "the most contemptible of mortals" yet deserving of respect owing to his role in negotiating a treaty that served American interests.

Adams used these same pages to outline what he perceived as the fundamental differences between Spain's national character and that of the United States. Today the idea that individual nations possess an inherited, racially determined character or spirit uniquely their own is largely dismissed, but it was dogma throughout most of the nineteenth century and much of the twentieth as well. It was also a subject, together with that of race as a causal factor in history, Adams had grappled with ever since his days as a professor of history at Harvard in the 1870s. "Of all historical problems," he once wrote, "the nature of national character is the most difficult and the most important." It was difficult because Adams understood that regional differences tempered what were generally understood as "national traits," and it was important because Adams, together with most nineteenth-century historians, believed that national character was a dynamic historical force, one that determined a nation's trajectory, as well as what it could or could not achieve. In keeping with these ideas Adams wove "national traits" into the fabric of his history, among them his own country's "antipathy to war." Other characteristics he attributed to America included intelligence, rapidity, mildness, native energy, and boundless ambition.

Adams had less to say about Spain's national character other than suggesting that it aligned with the country's record of "despotism, bigotry, and corruption." He also hinted that Spaniards were far more timid than Americans, who, as he put it, were "persistent aggressors" out to expand their territories at the expense of Spain. It was easy therefore for Adams to suggest, "That the Spaniards should dread and hate the Americans was natural; for the American character was one which no Spaniard could like, as the Spanish character had qualities few Americans could understand." He then added that Spaniards were so different from Americans that between them "no permanent friendship could exist." The two, in short, were "natural enemies" and thus hard-wired imperial rivals whose interests would sooner or later lead them to war.

Natural enemies? Exactly how and when Adams (1838–1918) arrived at this formulation is not entirely clear. Regrettably, his posthumously published third-person autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams, provides few clues. Adams considered knowledge of Spanish as useful a "tool" as French, German, and mathematics. He could read the language, but his command of spoken Spanish was limited prior to his decision in 1879 to travel to Spain, accompanied by his wife, Clover, in order to conduct archival research related to his History of the United States. Their stay was short — only two months — but Adams engaged a Spanish tutor soon after his October arrival in Madrid. Within a matter of days he claimed to know only about "ten words of Spanish together with Clover" yet still managed to converse "fluently all day." A month later the couple's mastery of the language had improved to the point where Adams, visiting Granada, reported that he took tea at the home of the antiquarian Leopold Eguílaz, "talking fluid Spanish with the Señora, two padres of the holy Inquisition, and two pure Moors of the race of Boabdil; it was life of the fifteenth century with full local color."

As this last comment suggests, Washington Irving's view of Spain as both romantic and picturesque, as expressed in his best-selling Tales of the Alhambra, seems to have colored Adams's impressions of the country right from the very start. Prior to traveling there he had already told a friend that "my hope is to pass Christmas in Granada, and making love to Señoritas in Seville and Cadiz. Perhaps we can make a party and bottle a little Andalusian sunshine for our old age. How would your wife like to try the quality of a December moon in the Alhambra?"

Once in Madrid, however, Adams began to see things rather differently: "We have been a week on the territory of this proud race of Caballeros, and I entirely agree with those who think that a meaner territory may be widely sought and not found. As for Madrid, it is without exception the ugliest and most unredeemable capital I ever saw. ... The hotels are bad; the streets vulgar, and the people simply faded Jews. ... In short, if I were to draw a just conclusion from my impression, I should say that I think Spain a hole, and that I only want to get out of it." He then added, "In spite of everything, Spain does amuse me," although this particular observation probably had more to do with the weather ("a sun so glorious as the shadows are palpably black") and the Prado Museum ("Never did I dream of such Titians") than with the people ("good natured, dirty") he saw in the streets. A month later Adams had better things to say about Andalucia and especially Granada, which he judged "first-class."

Adams's bittersweet reaction to Spain is striking but nothing out of the ordinary, as the remainder of this chapter explains. As for his contention that Spain was America's "natural enemy," that idea is not likely to have come from either Adams's negative impression of Madrid or his research on Jefferson and Madison. Jefferson understood that whoever controlled New Orleans — whether France, Spain, or Great Britain, a possibility Jefferson feared — constituted America's natural enemy, although "natural" here was predicated principally on the notion of rival territorial ambitions as opposed to hard-wired differences in national character. Indeed when it came to describing the Spanish, in 1801 Jefferson offered the opinion that "with respect to Spain, our disposition is sincerely amicable, and even affectionate," a quote that Adams even includes in his own book.

The vocabulary Adams used to write about Spain was somewhat different. Although certain aspects of Spain amused him during the course of his visit there in 1879, his comments about Spanish "bigotry" and the "rottenness" of Spanish society suggest his overall view of the country aligned with that of the Black Legend. They also followed observations about Spain and Spaniards he is likely to have encountered in the Adams family archives. Both his great-grandfather, John Adams, and grandfather, John Quincy Adams, were instrumental in negotiating several treaties that orchestrated relations between Spain and the United States for almost one hundred years. In addition, both kept a diary during their one — and only — visit to Spain, in 1779, and it appears that Henry Adams had access to these diaries as early as 1859.

John Adams's diary was especially detailed and recounted what turned out to be an unexpected overland journey across northern Spain during the winter of 1779–80. Having been charged by the Continental Congress to negotiate an end to the war of independence and sign a treaty for commerce and friendship with Great Britain, Adams's intended destination was Paris, but the French frigate on which he, his twelve-year old son John Quincy, and the other members of his entourage had embarked in New York leaked so badly that its captain sought safety in the northwestern Spanish port of El Ferrol. After waiting there for another ship, Adams decided to travel overland, and for this purpose he hired coaches, horses, and a French-speaking guide. His route followed the famous pilgrimage route (or camino) of Santiago de Compostela, albeit in reverse, and six weeks passed before Adams reached Fuenterrabía (also known by its Basque name, Hondarribia) and crossed the Bidasoa River into France. Given the season, it was a cold, slow, often difficult journey made worse by the poor condition of the roads and a series of flea- infested, poorly provisioned inns.

It is hard to know what Henry Adams took away from these diaries, but he would have learned that his great-grandfather was a curious traveler who commented at length on Spain's system of government, the workings of its law courts, the wealth and variety of its agricultural products, its commerce and trade. He would have also seen John Adams as something of an amateur ethnographer interested in the customs and living conditions of the peasants he encountered. A more surprising discovery, given that John Adams was a devout Congregationalist of Puritan ancestry, might have been his great-grandfather's fascination with the artwork and other decorations of the Roman Catholic churches he visited. The senior statesman regretted his failure to visit the pilgrimage center of "Saint Iago de Compostella," but he recounted with pleasure his initial encounter with Spanish hot chocolate: "Breakfasted for the first time on Spanish Chocolate which fully answered the fame it had acquired in the World. Till that time I had no Idea that any thing that had the Appearance of Chocolate and bore that name could be so delicious and salubrious."

Yet, in view of his own Protestant upbringing, Henry would not have missed John Adams's critical comments about Spanish ignorance and poverty and especially his readiness to attribute these and the country's other ills — the lack of industry, for example — to the shortcomings of monarchy and the malign influence of the Roman Catholic Church. Particularly striking in this regard was the following entry dated January 8, 1780: "Together Church, State and Nobility exhaust the Labour and Spirits of the People to such a degree, that I had no Idea of the Possibility of deeper Wretchedness. ... Ignorance more than Wickedness has produced this deplorable State of Things, Ignorance of the true Policy which encourages Agriculture, Manufactures and Commerce. The Selfishness and Lazyness of Courtiers and Nobles, have no doubt been the Cause of this Ignorance: and the blind Superstition of the Church has cooperated with all the other causes and increased them."

Reading further, Henry Adams would have encountered similar observations in the travel diary of John Quincy Adams, whose ideas about Spanish peasants echoed those of his father: "They are Lazy, dirty, Nasty, and in short I can compare them to nothing but a parcel of hogs." Yet the boy struck a somewhat more sympathetic note when he attributed the brutishness of the Spanish peasantry not to some kind of deep-seated character flaw but to the pernicious influence of the Roman Catholic Church. "Poor creatures," he wrote, "they are eaten up by their priests. Near three quarters of what they earn goes to the Priests and the other Quarter they must live [on] as they can. Thus is the whole of this Kingdom deceived and deluded by their Religion."

At work here was a cluster of anti-Catholic prejudices that dated back to the sixteenth century and the age of European religious wars. Layered on top was a series of High Enlightenment beliefs, especially those that envisioned the Roman Church as the archenemy of scientific progress and economic advance. Echoes of the great eighteenth-century Scottish historian William Robertson can also be heard. John Adams had read Robertson's Europe in the Age of Charles V (1769) as early as 1773, and it appears that his understanding of the pernicious effects of feudalism and the inherited privileges of nobility derived from that influential work. He may also have had the opportunity to read parts of Robertson's History of America (1777) before arriving in Spain; it offered a lengthy discussion of the manner in which an unhappy combination of high taxes and poor management contributed to the general corruption and stagnation of Spain's New World colonies along with the "declension" of Spain itself. In addition to these ideas about the country's decline, Adams brought with him to Spain the idea that government ought to serve as a motor of economic development and social welfare, or what he, together with Jefferson and other members of the Continental Congress, would have understood as "Life, Liberty, and Happiness."

Coupling these ideas to the Black Legend, which depicted Spaniards as backward, bigoted, and cruel, and the criticisms of Spain contained in the two diaries, one can understand with relative ease how Henry Adams might have formulated the idea of Spain as a natural enemy of the United States. For his great-grandfather the United States epitomized freedom, progress, and change, and Spain meant just the opposite, an idea that John Quincy also embraced. It later passed to Henry, as well as to Henry's wife, Clover, who in a letter drafted in Madrid succinctly observed that Spaniards were all "tomorrow," that is, lazy and procrastinating, whereas Americans were quintessentially "today," that is, enterprising and ambitious.


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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: The Spanish Fever
1. Rival Empires
2. Sturdy Spain
3. Sunny Spain
4. Hispanism, Hispanismo, and the Hispanic Society of America
5. Collectors and Collecting
6. “Castles in Spain Made Real”
7. The Spanish Blaze
Conclusion: The “Back-and-Forth” Style

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