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ArribaAbajo Galdós' Letters to Gerardo

William H. Shoemaker

Among the many generous Spaniards who have helped us North Americans in our research work in Spain, none ranks higher in my own personal regard and gratitude than the justly renowned endocrinologist and political and spiritual patriot, the late Dr. Gregorio Marañón. As Galdós' medical doctor and devoted friend and admirer, Don Gregorio enjoyed a rare intimacy with Don Benito, of whom he occasionally wrote with deep insight and rare appreciation, evident poignantly for example in his Elogio y Nostalgia de Toledo (Madrid, 1941).

In the Spring of 1955 Dr. Marañón turned over to me for examination a bulky package of 271 letters Galdós wrote in the eighteen summers of 1900-1917219, from Santander, to his administrator in Madrid, Gerardo Peñarrubia220. With unhesitating trust Don Gregorio urged me to take these precious letters -for as long as I needed them, he said- to my lodging in the Residencia del Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas on Pinar 21. Although fearful of some possible accident or mishap to this treasure, even in carrying the package up the hill from his residence on the Castellana, I easily let myself be persuaded to see, at first hand, how poor Galdós was and in what financial straits he lived, as Don Gregorio expressly wanted me to see. I read and studied those letters, copying out portions and photographing some with my trusty Leica. My only regrets now, nearly thirty years later, are that I did not write this article sooner and that I did not photograph the whole body of text, without any omission221. My only excuse is, and I admit it is a lame one, that there is some monotony, near repetitiousness, in the contents.

*  *  *

As would be expected from the nature of Don Benito's relationship with Gerardo, the chief and continuing double burden of the letters is money and work, the other contents being usually coincidental, almost parenthetical, addenda, and not always related to the persistent subjects. Gerardo is charged with negotiating loans and making collections222. Of the 113 names appearing in the whole corpus of letters, thirteen are identifiable money lenders (possibly there are several more), one specifically called «usurero», and another named Torquemada, with the Madrid street addresses of many223. Galdós's financial distress begins early and continues relentlessly to the end: short and urgently needed eight-day loans to be negotiated in 1911 and 1915, a pawned watch redeemed, the need of 150 pesetas to get out of Santander for the return trip to Madrid in the fall of 1915, and the order for Gerardo to meet him on   —152→   arrival the next year with 170 pesetas. One of the great financial needs in Santander was the maintenance of the San Quintín establishment: the painters, the carpenters, the brass workers, the masons, the coal supplier, the roof repair, the insurance, and the support of the extensive household224, including his sisters Concha and Carmen, the latter's two sons, Pepe and Ambrosio, servants Victoriano and Paco, Pepe's adopted daughter, Rafaelita, and her governess, Doña Matilde, and occasional guests like his amanuensis Pablo Nougués and his wife Lidia, Gerardo himself and his sick wife Juliana with their child («la pitusa» -shades of Fortunata y Jacinta), and Machaquito, the matador and Rafaelita's father.

Politics enter but rarely in the correspondence and then only in connection with expenses (the trip to Cartagena in 1905 and to Cádiz and Biarritz-Hendaye in 1910, the costly entertainment of Republican leader Soriano «y demonios coronados») and almost more importantly and irritatingly, the interruptions of his work caused by the trips, committee meetings and visits «de todo el familión republicano de aquí» (11-X-09). The trip south is for «esa fastidiosa ceremonia de las Cortes de Cádiz» (28-VIII-10); «lástima que a mediados de septiembre tenga que interrumpir mi trabajo para ir», but «podré dar algún impulso a la venta de Episodios y del Libro de la Guerra de la Independencia225» (26-VIII-10). Income payments are frequently and gratefully noted from publishers, «casa de Tello», and Don Narciso [Perlado] and Don Eduardo [Paz], from Don Desiderio Hidalgo of the Teatro Español226, from Manolo Blasco of the Crédito de la Propiedad Intelectual, from Sánchez Pastor of the Sociedad de Autores, from [Francisco] Verdugo of La Esfera and Sr. Arenas of España Nueva for articles Galdós contributed, and from «mi fiel amigo y compañero republicano Tomás Romero» (31-VIII-14), who undertakes the famous collection of funds to save Galdós and keep him financially afloat.

Don Benito informs Gerardo about his work habits and the progress he is making. In 1903, 1909, and 1910 he records that he is writing fast and comfortably. And De Cartago a Sagunto «va tan adelantadito» and «tan aprisa» in August, 1911. In that summer he writes twenty-five cuartillas a week, getting up at five o'clock in the morning and working around the clock, until twelve hours later. All the letters are replete with data and/or instructions with regard to handling the galley and page proofs, which he reads and corrects rapidly, and their transportation by mail, or best in the hands of a friend or an ambulante, whose identity varies and is some times named. Work keeps him from being sad: «viviría muy tristemente si no me levantara el ánimo el trabajo literario, que es mi única alegría en medio de tantas contrariedades» (22-VIII-11), but even in despair «todo se andará, Dios mediante» (3-X-11). The following July he can write on arrival in Santander that with the usual delightful tranquility he feels ten years younger; but twelve months later all that has changed, for «siempre está uno con el alma en un hilo», and although his nature is to withstand great suffering «aguanto más que aguantó Jesucristo cuando lo azotaron y escupieron, y después lo crucificaron» (10-VIII-13). This refers chiefly to his financial suffering, for he urges his administrator to have «paciencia, pensando, como yo, en Jesucristo, que tanto pasó por nosotros».


But Don Benito's pessimism is exacerbated especially at this time by his blindness. He first writes of his failing eyesight much earlier than is usually supposed. In August 1903 he says «yo estoy mal de la vista. Cada día veo menos». By 1911 he is consulting with Doctors Madrazo and Márquez, the latter has operated unsuccessfully on his left eye, and another operation (called «iridectomía») on the same eye is scheduled for October when he gets back to Madrid (22-VIII-11). Repeatedly that summer and thereafter he finds his gafas and his lentes useless, urges Gerardo to write big, and he has to use amanuenses: mainly Pablo Nougués, occasionally his coachman Paco Martín, and once at least «un chico de la escuela» (13-VIII-11). By September 1913 «el escribir me daña a la vista» and «de tanto escribir me voy quedando sin vista, voy perdiendo el corto ver de mi ojo derecho». But two years later, evidently to allay worries of his family, «diga en casa que sigo muy bien y que trabajo mucho» (2-IX-15).227

This concern and consideration for all members of his large household is further, although unnecessarily, expressed to Gerardo when Don Benito reports to him his sister María's death in Las Palmas (26, 28, and 29-VIII-10), his nephew Pepe's continuing illness (14 and 19-IX-17), and his sister Concha's health (14-VIII-13), which «ha mejorado bastante» (1-VIII-14) but which will require a special «simón cerrado» at the Madrid station «para llevarla» (29-IX-sin año). Galdós' generosity in loco parentis to his nephews Pepe and Ambrosio was considered excessive by the boys' father, sister Carmen's husband, José Hermenegildo Hurtado de Mendoza, who reproached him for it, because, as he wrote, it was driving him into debt. Personal generosity is ubiquitous in relation to friends and associates, and even impersonal charity is notable, especially in connection with his pledge and its funding to the Escuela Laica in Santander (26-IX-06).

Galdós is especially generous and considerate of Pablo Nougués, his secretary-amanuensis, and of Gerardo. Of the former Don Benito is also mockingly critical, naming him Pablito with the diminutive form, which, as we know, is one of his linguistic benchmarks and which he applies to many in the letters, including Rafaelita, her governess Doña Matildita, and his nephew (?) Dominguito (13-IX-15). He pins a nickname on Nougués, another of his linguistic customs, calling him Pablífero (8-VIII-12, etc.). His ambivalent attitude toward Nougués is constantly evident in calling him lazy («no busca y rebusca con que vivir», 2-IX-09), gossipy («todo lo cuenta», 10-IX-09), foolish («tontaina» n. d.), full of grandiose pretensions (2-IX-15), married to Doña Lidia, a greedy, covetous wife (7-X-11), but at the same time he provides care for the wife when she is sick and meets the cost of transporting their household goods and appreciatively recognizes that without Nougués he «no habría podido hacer la obra», De Cartago a Sagunto (7-X-11). The first money earned by a Peruvian edition shall go toward the cure of Pablito's later serious illness (13-IX-15), and the next day he asks, with concern, for news of Pablito and Lidia, «la sin par pareja». Three days later he denounces them as schemers, «la pareja de trapisondistas» (18-IX-15). But when, a second day later he intends to get away from them («zafarme de las uñas de Doña Lidia y de Don Pablo») he will nevertheless give them help («socorro para que coman») (20-IX-15).


Although there are few expressions of Don Benito's personal feelings for Gerardo himself, he is, in those few, unreservedly and unambiguously affectionate, even in mild reproof, as we have noted above (n. 222). He unfailingly sends «memorias» to the family and «besos» to the small Peñarrubia daughter, whom he designates as, besides «la pitusa», the «comino». He is glad that wife Juliana's health has improved (13-VIII-11) and that Gerardo himself is well enough to enjoy his «excursión veraniega» to Atienza and Brihuega, where Don Benito urges him to rest up. He often includes expressions of how much he has missed his loyal friend. He eagerly awaits their visit to Santander, where he has prepared for their lodging, once in Nougués' house (11 and 14-VIII-12) and another year at the pensión of Sra. Petra Pesquera, where «su llegada está preparada» (19-VII-17). In 1914 Juliana and the pitusa enjoyed a visit in Santander and in several letters Galdós tells Gerardo that «siguen bien y se bañan» (31-VIII), and when they are about to leave tomorrow, the pitusa «está aquí muy contenta y no quiere marcharse» (4-IX). Two summers later, Gerardo is ill and Don Benito is glad the injections are curing your «ataque de nervios», and Paco will meet your train (3, 5, 31-VIII-16). Evidently Gerardo is reluctant to pay himself out of Galdós' meager and debt-ridden monies, for in one of the letters Don Benito reproves him for it, saying «todo lo ha hecho V. muy bien, menos una cosa, el no haber cogido V. para sí lo que quiera de las 160 pesetas sobrantes» (28-IX-sin año).

Among other personal touches is the selection and purchase of a parrot as a gift, originally as a surprise, to Don Narciso Perlado, a matter extending over two years. In 1907 Galdós wrote: «Antes que se me olvide, Victoriano fue a ver los loros. Le pidieron 14 duros por uno que decían que hablaba; pero no era seguro. Yo me encargué de comprarlo, si lo hallamos bueno, y que hable tanto y tan bien como Melquíades Álvarez. De no ser así, más vale dejarlo. Se expone uno a pagar un dineral por un pájaro que luego resulta cartujo» (12-IX). In October two years later Don Benito reports that he has bought the «loro, un ejemplar magnífico» at a «precio bastante crecido, por ser según me aseguran un pájaro llamado a distinguirse por su oratoria. No dirá V. nada a Don Narciso, pues yo, no olvidado de sus atenciones, se lo regalo. Le daré nota de lo que come el animalito y de las palabras que sabe pronunciar ya correctamente» (11-X-09). Some time later (3-VIII-sin año) he writes tersely, the secret surprise evidently revealed, «a Don Narciso, que cuente con el loro».

In 1912 several letters show Galdós' concern and sense of responsibility, evident even the year before (see above, n. 226), for the Teatro Español and his quick trip in September to Madrid to prepare the inauguration of the season and his subsequent prompt return to Santander. He indicates he wants «el drama Don Francisco de Quevedo» (3-IX-12) but says the next day: «no se preocupe más de buscar el Don Francisco de Quevedo. Ya parecerá» (4-IX-12)228. His intention to make the trip to the capital on the twelfth was altered by the visit to San Quintín, his Santander home229, of the celebrated actress Matilde Moreno, which she announced for the thirteenth to discuss the opening of the Español. «La Matildita hasta ahora no ha parecido. Es posible que haga rabona. Mañana contaré a V. lo que haya si por fin veo a la Morenito» (13-IX-12).


The unsuccessful surgical intervention of Dr. Manuel Márquez on May 25, 1911, to remove a cataract from Galdós' left eye is well known. Dr. Márquez is named in eleven of the letters to Gerardo, and the repeated expressions of Galdós' hope are an insistent note in four September letters. The month before he had written: «Desde Viena me ha escrito el Doctor Márquez una larga carta. Con lo que éste me dice y lo que Madrazo me dice fortifico la esperanza de que este ojo maldito se arreglará» (28-VIII-11). Not so well known is the consulting role played by Dr. Enrique Madrazo, paisano santanderino and empresario-concesionario of the Teatro Español, where his play Nelis was performed. For the Madrazo volume containing the text of this play Galdós wrote a prologue in 1913230, and this distinguished scientist in named in four earlier 1911 letters. In one, Galdós writes: «El Doctor Márquez me escribió desde Ginebra y le contesté incluyéndole una nota extensa del Doctor Madrazo. Resulta de las opiniones de los dos sabios doctores que he de sufrir otra operación en el mismo ojo izquierdo» (22-VIII-11).

Galdós' interest in world affairs gets short shrift in these letters, but they do reveal that he keeps up on the World War231 by buying El Imparcial every day and having Paco Rubín read it to him (1-IX-16). But his inveterate liking of spectable brings forth extensive treatment in August and September 113232. It is not his habit to add postscripts, but he does write an unusual one, albeit brief, in 8-IX-13: «Anoche tuvimos aquí un furioso temporal de truenos, exhalaciones y lluvia torrencial. Y hoy, todavía sigue». But in August he had expatiated at length on King Alfonso XIII's arrival in Santander: «En este momento (4-VIII-13) llega a boca del puerto el Giralda233 donde viene el Rey. Hoy arde en fiestas Santander, y el jolgorio durará todo el día. Desde la puerta de esta casa veré pasar toda la comitiva en dirección al Palacio de la Magdalena», and later: «Hace un momento han pasado por delante de mi puerta los Reyes y tras ellos un séquito interminable de coches y automóviles. El pueblo está animadísimo. Todo el mundo se ha echado a la calle y pasa por aquí». Don Benito continues at even greater length the next day, on «el gran barullo y movimiento. En realidad yo no pude ver nada. Rubín y otros amigos que estaban a mi lado me dijeron que al pasar el Rey me había mirado con insistencia. Yo no me enteré de nada, y no sé si me llevé la mano al sombrero para descubrirme; pero creo que no». This had embarrassing interpretations for anti-monarchist, republican Galdós. The Conde de Romanones visits to talk with him about the Teatro Español and especially to bring the King's greetings. General Aznar next brings him the King's good wishes for his health, «dándome las gracias por haberle saludado en la puerta, cosa que no hice, [quedándome] estupefacto». Further on he insists: «Yo no saludé. El que tuvo la culpa fue Rubín que se quitó el sombrero e hizo muchos aspavientos. Sin duda lo tomaron por mí» (5-VIII-13). The next day he has written his friend Estrañí to put it all straight in El Cantábrico, which was done.

Most of what Galdós writes about his books, articles, and plays concerns reprints, new editions, editorial arrangements, and performances. Reprinting is noted of the novels Gloria, El doctor Centeno, El amigo Manso, and Halma and of the Episodios nacionales entitled Prim, which seems to have been in greatest demand (in five letters), Mendizábal, O'Donnell, and La batalla de los   —156→   Arapiles. He declares (9-IX-15) his plan for «la casa Hernando... un nuevo tomo de Memoranda con muchas cosas enteramente nuevas», a volume which, to my knowledge, was never published and possibly not completed. Reprintings of his adaptations for the theater of La loca de la casa, of Doña Perfecta, and, most frequently (five letters), of El abuelo, and the «libreto de Zaragoza» are also indicated.

One of the longest and most substantially critical prologues Galdós wrote was for his admired young friend José María Salaverría's book, Vieja España. He writes Gerardo (28-VII-07) that he has begun it and «aunque voy despacio con este trabajo, espero terminarlo en la primera quincena de agosto. Libro y prólogo son interesantes». When the volume was published Galdós' date for finishing the prologue was «septiembre de 1907».234

The earliest mention of a new play comes on 10-X-08, when he writes: «Llevo la obra de Lara absolutamente terminada. Quisiera estrenarla de las primeras». Although unnamed, this work must be «Pedro Minio, estrenada en el Teatro Lara, de Madrid, el 15 de diciembre de 1908».235

In a two-part late autumn letter (21 and 22-IX-13) we read: «la obra dramática Celia en los infiernos la he hecho para que con esa obra y Marta236 tener dos estrenos en la próxima temporada». The previous month he had urged silence and secrecy on the new comedia he is writing (19-VIII-13); this play must have been Celia en los infiernos or possibly the mysterious Marta. He complains about his «obras secuestradas» (9-IX-16) by «los de la calle de Quintana [money-lenders?]». From Huelva he writes with weary (he is now 73 years old) joy of the «recibimiento colosal y por la noche en el Teatro el delirio... Aquí he ido de triunfo en triunfo, de agasajo en agasajo, de convite en convite, de visita en visita... Anoche (17-III) La loca de la casa con el Teatro hasta los topes y un entusiasmo loco... y esta noche Marianela». From the Gran Hotel in Barcelona the following month: «Mi estancia aquí será más larga de lo que creía porque el éxito de Marianela en Novedades ha superado a cuanto se podía imaginar» (9-IV-17). Three days later, «todavía no sé cuando podré salir de aquí, pues mañana vienen los Quintero y tendré que aguardarme por lo menos un par de días después de la llegada de estos buenos amigos» (12-IV-17). Indeed he stayed at least through April 17237. Back in Santander, he will stay a few days after his numerous family leaves for Madrid «para terminar la nueva obra, Santa Juana de Castilla, que es donde tengo cifrada toda mi esperanza de la temporada próxima» (23-IX-17).

Of his new novels during the period of these letters to Gerardo, he has sent the first cuartillas of Casandra to the «casa de Tello» (24 and 26-IX-05), similarly those of El caballero encantado (23 and 29-VIII-09), likewise later, to Hernando, the proofs of the first two jornadas of La razón de la sinrazón (9-IX-15). Of the new Episodio nacional he announces: «Llevo perfectamente planeada238 España trágica» (10-X-08) and two thirds of the current work, [Amadeo I?] completed (29-VIII-10). On 8-VIII-11, «he comenzado De Cartago a Sagunto y va tan adelantadito». Two weeks later: «Me propongo terminar el libro antes de someterme nuevamente a lo que ordena la ciencia» (22-VIII-11), i. e., his next eye surgery. After it is nearly finished he confesses that «sin él [Pablito Nougués] no habría podido hacer la obra», and «lo restante de la obra lo haré ahí [en Madrid], en quince días» (7-X-11).   —157→   In August, 1912, he is hurrying along with Cánovas, «vamos marchando, amigo Don Gerardo» (2 and 3-VIII-12), and days later, «está terminado» (5-VIII-12). His euforia has not been exhausted a week later when he exults at «el final de Cánovas. Viva Cánovas!» (13-VIII-12), whose publisher announces «para el 14 de septiembre la salida de Cánovas». These words are immediately followed by the following: «Ya estoy trabajando en los preparativos de Sagasta, y vamos viviendo, vamos marchando hacia la redención de la patria» (1-IX-12).

In the pages of these essentially dry, prosy letters of factual and material things it will be hard to find genuinely poetic expressions, which indeed are not common, as readers know, in his long career of novelistic and dramatic writings. However, humorous figures of speech, comic images, in familiar, colloquial, even slangy verbalizations are abundant, as they are in the compositions of his creative art. In addition to the several evident in quotations in the foregoing pages, we will conclude this brief information on Galdós' letters to Gerardo with a restrained selection from the many others: adelante con los faroles; Don R. nos está dando la lata; watch the Tellos for gazapillos; the poor paper of printers' proofs is like telarañas; the content of a cablegram from Buenos Aires is filfa; no veo ya gota; my house is now guarded by four bigardos de la ronda secreta: estaremos al cabo de la calle; el santo se me ha vuelto de espaldas; que no vengan a picarme los tábanos que quedan por allá; overjoyed with his publisher, adelante, que ya amanecerá Dios y medraremos; la viuda de Esquerra puso al pobre Don Pablífero como no digan dueñas; todo ha ido como una seda; Cánovas listo para salir a la calle; dudo que salga yo con vida de este berengenal; pesimismo es mi compañero inseparable; adelante, y seguiremos con la cruz a cuestas, Calvario adelante. Esto no es vivir; mis ojos no están para muchas fiestas; los morosos de aquí [Barcelona]; his letter to Don Desi le sabrá a cuerno quemado; va otra carta del pelma Don David, [...] que vaya a la m.; si Madrazo sabe lo que escribo (estoy enteramente ciego), la chillería que me eche se oirá en Madrid; financial difficulties are batallas, [...] me da el corazón que las ganaremos; al gachó del arpa le dará lo pedido y un puntapié; Bergia es el hombre de los inconvenientes. Finally, one especially long and elaborated: «V. me da cuenta de su faena con el que parece miura y es un buey cansino. A pesar de esto, hay que tener cuidado con él alternando el castigo con el discreto halago. Ya irá V. recibiendo nuevos dados para banderillas».

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