Four presidents in barely eleven months have succeeded one another at the head of the first visible and invisible Spanish Republic, the first major attempt at radical change in Spanish society. This year 1873 – next year will be the 150th anniversary – was a period as hard as it was intense. Spain was waging two simultaneous wars: the Third Carlist War and the Cuban War, too much for a depleted treasury when it had sold almost all of its mineral wealth to foreign companies and invented all sorts of taxes to measure the coasts of the Spanish people.
“A short but exciting period of our history, the time of great deputies such as Castelar and Salmerón, giants of the oratory that we miss today”, says historian José Calvo Poyato, author of “El Año de la República” (ed. Harper Collins, 638 pages). He warns us that what we have in our hands is a historical novel, which implies fidelity to events and a significant dose of creative freedom.
Faithful to these premises, Calvo Poyato once again called on Fernando Besora, editor-in-chief of the newspaper La Iberia, which had already appeared in “Sangre in the calle del turco”revealing the ins and outs that led to the assassination of General Prim, as the novel’s protagonist.
On this occasion, it is from the hand of this editor of a Madrid newspaper with liberal political preferences, who comes from Reus and who will realize his most beautiful professional dreams in the capital, that we learn of the tense and unstable political atmosphere of these months. Accustomed to one of the many great Madrid meetings, Café Suizo, Besora met writers such as Pérez Galdós, who published that same year “Trafalgar”, the first of his “Episodios Nacionales”, Valera, Zorrilla and Mesonero Romanos . Also with politicians like Cánovas del Castillo, who for a time had designed the architecture of the Bourbon monarchical Restoration in the person of the son of the dethroned Isabella II; the moderate federalist Pi y Margall, who was President of the Republic for a few weeks, and Miguel Morayta, also a Republican and professor of history at the Central University. The latter was the protagonist of numerous episodes in which he used his teaching to refute the historical falsifications that began to proliferate at that time, such as the supposed Catalan-Aragonese crown or the confusion over the lower purple band of the Republican flag. The discussion also featured the painter Casado del Alisal, the author of the painting depicting the surrender of the French after the battle of Bailén and the first director of the Academy of Rome.
The sad departure of Estanislao Figueras
“Gentlemen deputies: I am tired of all of us”, legend has it that the first president of this short-lived republic, Estanislao Figueras, told the entire Spanish political class, before leaving for Atocha station and taking the first train to Paris, never to return . This theft which, in the eyes of our many neighbors and not always friends, made us the laughingstock of Europe, is treated by the author as a curious anecdote, featuring a character devastated by the death of his wife, concerned to leave as quickly as possible the hubbub and stridency of a Congress whose debates were more typical of a tavern where it was customary to be heard shouting.
As always seems to happen in Spain, the best heads and the most laudable desires are drowned out by envy, intransigence and anger. Moderate voices are barely heard, rejecting the widely held belief that the republic is about doing what you want. The novel saves both the episodes of violence and assassinations “because the Republic has arrived” and the impeccable government program presented by Pi y Margall: “Beyond the elaboration of a Constitution that defines us as a Federal Republic, my program is based on five pillars: to put an end to the war which, in certain provinces of Spain, maintains the most recalcitrant absolutism [the third Carlist war]. Achieve the separation of Church and State, because in a modern society it is not acceptable for the Church to have a monopoly on beliefs. We will return to the town halls the communal assets of which they have been deprived by deleveraging. We will submit for the approval of the House, with immediate effect, a law to abolish slavery in our overseas provinces [Cuba and Puerto Rico], a scourge that we cannot and should not tolerate. As you know, slavery was abolished in the peninsular territories, as well as in the Balearic and Canary archipelagos in 1837, although slaves no longer exist because they were seized by the state a little more than a century and liberated. And we will also work to protect women and children in the world of work”. A program that no one in their right mind would oppose, but which found in the comecuras, the overseas landowners, mainly Catalans, the moralizers and cantonalist rebels are the greatest and worst opposition to Spain joining the train of modernity in the world, from which it had been excluded at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.
Madrid lived with intensity and fear all the events that have unfolded like a torrent since Amadeo I left in bitterness and convinced that Spain was an ungovernable country whose main enemies were also Spanish., which did not prevent the capital from being a hotbed of popular passions, which exploded in the bullfighting rivalry between Frascuelo and Lagartijo, among many other polarizations. That year, in addition to the Frascuelistas and the Lagartijistas, the most intransigent Republicans, who advocated the prohibition of bullfighting, made their presence felt. They succeeded then at least in delaying the Feria de Madrid, and above all in overturning the only ritual in which Spain has not lived up to its well-deserved reputation of starting nothing, absolutely nothing, neither shows nor public services. , on time.
Also, in the most intellectual and refined circles, there was speculation about the authorship of the theft of several incunabula from the National Libraryincluding a priceless 15th century edition of Dante’s Divine Comedy, a plot whose investigation will be one of the pivots on which this splendid novel rests.