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Bulls And Bull-Fighting

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



Although Bull-Fighting is not a sport in which Englishmen commonly engage, it may fairly, as the national pastime of more than one European country, claim a place in an Encyclopaedia of Sport.

From the time when the young bull is tended on Andalusian plains to the closing moments of his life in the National Corria'a, a vocabulary of special words, a separate form of expression illustrates the science of all pertaining to Tauronzachia. In Spain these terms form part of current expression, as the bull-fight forms part of current existence. This, without penetrating to the inner life of "the fancy" where a language half gipsy, half slang-rich and racy as you please-is the medium of the Matador and his entourage. For the hybrid lingo of this set no equivalent could be found, but for some technical terms of the art it is necessary to give a fairly accurate rendering. This, when possible, will be attempted.

The river Guadalquivir after passing Seville forms between its different channels the islands known as Isla Mayor and Isla Menor, and these islands are in their turn subdivided into the far stretching plains of Las Cabezas and Lebrija. It is from the fine herds of fighting cattle specially bred on these plains, that the bull-rings all over Spain are principally supplied. On the adjacent vegas of Utrera, are the herds of Muruve and Miura, this last of singular ferocity and sinister reputation. Three times in recent years have Toros de Miura over-matched their foes. Thrice has the life-blood

Matadors mingled with this sangre fiera in open fight. The classic arena of Madrid bore witness to their death-dealing horns, when the Cordoba man Jose Rodriquez (Pepete) fell, to be followed later by Mariano Canete. The shock which galvanised the public there on the 27th of May, 1894, when poor Espartero died, yet seems to thrill all Spain, for he was a universal favourite. Besides the Seville owners there are breeders in various parts of the country. The bulls are kept separate from the cows in enclosed pastures, each calf (male or female) being given a name at birth and entered in the herd-register. When the calves are a year old, the branding process takes place. This forms almost as important an epoch as the trials for courage which take place later on. It is a rural festival, and a kind of open house is kept at the ranch during the days it lasts. A year passes, or even two, before any further steps are taken with the young stock. In some herds they are tested at two, in others at three years of age. The separation has then to be made between the good and the bad, or in other words, " the cowardly and the courageous " ; those which the overseer passes as good, return to their pastures, while those found wanting are condemned to the slaughter-house or the plough-share. This tentadero is again a file, crowds appear, the amateurs are now expected to take an active part, and he who would pose as a sportsman must be more than a fair rider and bestride a speedy nag well broken to the work. With the assistance of a number of trained oxen (each carrying a large bell) the youngsters are herded up on the plain, which extends as far as the eye can reach and offers no impediment to a race between mounted men and themselves. Half the " decoy " cattle are then removed from the mass and rounded up at some few hundred yards' distance. The owner, overseer, and his friends, each wielding a heavy wooden lance, called a garrocha, some twelve feet long, with short blunted metal point, similar to that used in the bull ring, rein up their horses for a start, with them being also a professional spearman (picador). On a given signal, the herdsmen whoare surrounding the beasts to be tried, allow one of the animals to escape, whereupon he or she, for the two sexes are tried indiscriminately, makes headlong for the distant group of tame kine. Immediately two spearmen urge their horses in pursuit, one lying on either side and each riding hard to get in first lance ; he on the right endeavours to place his spear, if one may call it such, on the hull's right flank and he on the left vice versa. If successful the bull is thrown to the ground; he rises, again to start and once more to be overthrown; then, infuriated, he turns to face his pursuers. These give way to the professional spearman who, with couched lance, awaits the onset. The beast charges repeatedly if he be of the right sort; each time baffled and kept at spear's length, as the metal point fixes in his withers. It is at this critical moment his fate is decided. By the number of times he faces the spear, so is his merit re-corded. An inferior or soft animal will refuse, or charge but once, the pluckier ones attacking repeatedly. The whole herd is tried in the same manner. The horsemen, mostly friends of the owner, take their turn in pairs to wield the lance. Bad falls are not infrequent.

The ordeal to which the young bulls are subjected is sometimes even further extended by men on foot giving them pares. To " pass " a bull is to induce him to charge by holding open before him some coloured material, which may be a rug, a cape, or something similar. As a matter of fact, the lures used in bull-fighting are made in the shape of a cape, so that when not in use they may be worn by the expert. When the bull lowers his horns in the charge, the texture is cast on one side or the other, the bull follows it and the man is safe. A bull will be brought to the charge several times before he tires of the intangible result. Many breeders condemn this practice, and consider that no bull should be " cheated with the rag" till necessary in the bull-ring. It is easy to understand that he would learn before long to leave the shadow for the substance. Instances of " educated " bulls, which have been extremely dangerous to the matador, are not wanting.

The selected bulls pass two years uneventfully, until at four or five years of age they are ready for the ring. They are now worth 40, 60, even 70 each, according to the reputation o_ the herd, though bulls for a novillada or second-rate bull-fight cost far less. The breeder's liability does not end until the bulls sold are safe in the ring, or in the railway station booked for a distance. In the enclosures or " surrounds," some of which are many thousand acres in extent, curious scenes are sometimes witnessed. Thus, two bulls fight, and the entire herd ring them round to look on. The loser is pursued by the rest, is badly hustled, sometimes killed. Even if not, the beast will ever after be of evil temper ; boycotted by the others, he keeps himself aloof from them. This moroseness is also noticeable in bulls which are sick, lame, or wounded. Another curious fact, in an enclosure containing eighty bulls or more, there is always one master of the rest-one Caesar. This continues till the herd will stand it no more ; then six or seven unite, and together attack the tyrant and kill him. The whole herd then surround the defunct and bellow mournfully, until the stock-man removes the body.

The enclosure which contains the cows with the calves is very dangerous ground ; should you draw their attention the whole lot will be upon you instantly, and, unless you can put the fence between you and them, you are in a bad way. If caught in the open there is one means of escape, which is to seize a calf, and, keeping it between you and the infuriated cows, to edge back to the railings ; as long as you are thus protected you are safe. In entering an enclosure of fighting bulls always keep near the railing or the riverside, even should they be near the former or drinking in the latter -never pass behind them in such a way as to block their escape. If they should stop and look at you, as they will do after moving a few steps, continue your way and do not stop; barring the sullen, solitary animals mentioned previously, there is no danger of a charge. The better bred they are the quieter they will he in the pastures. When a contractor comes to buy bulls for . a corrida, or fight, he or his deputy rides through the enclosure with the overseer, and picks out what he wants ; these are driven by the stockmen into a separate enclosure by means of the decoy cattle, cabrestos, which go with them. They are then driven by easy stages to the town of the fight, following the decoys with-out a thought of evil, and rest on some pasture in the neighbourhood.

Apart from the bull-fight proper and preceding it by some eight or ten hours there takes place in the same locale a diversion called the Brandy Bull. Early in the morning an animal of inferior quality, but possessing most of the attributes of the fighting class, is loosed in the arena. The points of its horns are bound in wooden knobs to prevent loss of life. The public is admitted on payment of a sum equal to about two pence; and any one may jump into the ring and try his hand with a capa, that is, draw the attention of the bull to himself. All the rabble of the town is present, and accidents (principally from the throng of people in the ring) are frequent. The bull sometimes gets his horns free, and then many serious wounds are given. After an hour of this baiting, the animal is removed and killed outside. This early excitement puts the people in a suitable frame of mind for the anticipation of the professional contest to take place in the afternoon : as the corrida always occurs on holidays, the whole time is absorbed by its ever renewed interest.

With the first morning light the bulls and their " traitorous kin " are roused by shouts of mounted men. Soon the whole herd of bulls and decoys is rattled along the lanes and by-ways, at a gallop, in the direction of the bull-ring. The horsemen are assisted in this operation, called the encierro (" enclosing "), by numerous amateurs. As the ring is approached the road is enclosed by strong post-and-rail fencing. At the end of this open the wide doors of the toril, or circular corral surrounded by high solid walls. Through the opening rush the herd, cabrestos and taros together. The wide door swings to, and all are safe. A passage leads from the corral to the bull-ring, and one by one the animals are admitted to this section. Doors swing conveniently open before each cabresto, and he walks quietly to liberty without, free to betray once more. An .equally convenient door opens before each bull, but not to liberty. Snorting and panic-stricken, impatient of control, he follows the opening way. Onward through secret panels till he can go no further-a bolt is drawn, a wall falls behind, and he is caught. Between his cell and the arena there is but a board.

The arena, or redondel, may be seventy yards across or less. A barrier of wood about six feet high encircles it ; then comes a corridor of seven feet, round which the first circle of seats are ranged. These are the places sought by the fore-most patrons of the sport. The space between the two circles is called entre barreras (" between barriers "), and here in this corridor the bull-fighters not actually engaged in the fray stand at rest ; it is here also that the police and the military have their representatives. So, when a bull jumps the barrier, as frequently happens, an amusing sauve qui peut occurs. Then the track is closed by throwing a section of the inner barrier to the outer circle, forming a stop. The bull is thus compelled to return to the arena. Some rings are provided with upright screens of wood called burladeros, placed at intervals close to and flush with the barrier-a refuge for the experts when hard pressed. From the first row of seats, or tendidos, the lines rise in widening circles back to the enclosing walls of the plaza or bullring. All is open to the sky except on the shady side of the amphitheatre, where a roofing covers the privileged seats at the top, the boxes and presidential balconies; as the spectacle usually takes place in the afternoon no inconvenience in this quarter is caused by the sun's rays. The composure of the elite in the boxes, where the bride-like costumes of the ladies give a strange refinement to the scene, indeed the coolness of all in the shady side or Sombra, is strongly contrasted by the close packing of the roaring " people " in the Sol. On that side the glare and heat are combated by myriads of fans of all colours. These, mixed with bright mantillas and flower-decked heads, make a blaze of tints, the blue sky over all, not easily equalled. The Sol has the life and glow of popularity, the Sombra the stamp of fashion, both combining the enthusiasm of the Spanish race.

The equipment for an ordinary corrida or bull-fight is six bulls. Two espadas or matadors are engaged to kill alternately, the elder commencing with No. 1. Each " master" has his own band of assistants called a cuadrilla; this troupe consists of four men on foot, known as banderilleros or chulos, and two horsemen called picadores. The sacrifice of horses varies; sometimes only ten suffice, at others twenty or more are required. The cost of an average corrida would be approximately one thousand pounds. Each matador is responsible for the performance of his party, The senior takes management of the ring-details. The word of the chief is law to his followers, who usually have great respect and affection for him. In some cases there are three espadas engaged then two bulls fall to the lot of each.

The total number of spectators varies according to the size of the ring, a fair average being 8,000 seats (that of Madrid contains 12,500).

The assemblage is presided over by persons in authority-in provincial capitals by the civil governor, in smaller towns by the alcalde or mayor.

The changes in the spectacle are directed from the presidential chair. When nothing goes wrong, the waving of a white handkerchief the suffices for the purpose. A red one is the sign of disapproval.

The fight is divided into three stages, first, the suerte or hazard play of the picadores or horse-men ; secondly, that of the banderilleros (men on foot), and lastly, the crowning and principal scene, the suerte of the swordsman (matador or espada). The spectacle commences with a pro-cession of the entire " cast," issuing from the gate opposite to the president's balcony. The matadors lead the show, walking in line abreast some three yards apart, behind them in Indian file follow the cuadrillas. The picadores ride in couples behind. The espada of highest fame leads the left wing, and the rear is brought up by two teams each of three mules harnessed abreast in gaudy trappings, accompanied by grooms and attendants. The espadas wear their gala capes in stately fashion. These garments are soon to be exchanged for less expensive ones for use in the conflict.

Preceding this imposing parade two aguacils, or warders, in sixteenth-century costume ride across the ring and go through the form of asking the president for the key of the bulls. This is thrown from above. The retirement of the aguacil with the key is the prelude to the fight. The vast arena is now clear save for the picadores, who are ranged some twelve yards apart on the left of the door from which the bull will emerge. Their horses are so placed that, if charged by the bull in his first rush, the impetus will be received on the right side. Each man grasps tight his garrocha or lance. There is a lull in the roar of thousands. The fatal hand-kerchief is waved, a herald trumpets the command to unswing the double doors, and the noble beast bounds to his fate. Encompassed on all sides by glaring moving colour, mad dened by all he sees and hears, the call on his ferocity is not made in vain, and fain would he wreak his vengeance on all at once. His eye takes in several victims, hardly can he decide which he will first attack. He swerves in his career from one to another, then darts at one and charges home. The efforts of the picador with his lance seldom serve for aught at this first charge; the guard is broken through, and horse and man are hurled to the ground. Frequently the picador is jammed between the saddle and the barrier. Then the toreadors come to the rescue by trailing capes before the bull, and his attention is taken from the fallen man, who may be within a few inches of his horns. The coloured capa takes his eye, he turns to catch it on his horns, then sees another horse and man, and on these vents his fury, usually with the same result as before. The object of the picador should be to turn the charge of the bull by firmly placing the point of his lance between the shoulder-blades as he wheels his horse to the left in safety.

Whatever may be said in answer to those who claim for the second and third sections greater proficiency and skill, the first part (that of the picadores) is but a prostitution of the original finished display of horsemanship. It must be borne in mind that the first espada, the matador, has completely absorbed the interest of the public. He has become the monopolist of plaza favour.' As two of rival rank are usually performing at the same fight they are the centre of all eyes, and not infrequently daring competitive efforts are made to draw applause.

Thus the picador is of secondary interest. The object of the Suerte de Varas (lance play) is to tire the bull sufficiently (not too much) to render him a more facile plaything in the use of the banderilla and the sword (second and third acts).

As the president (assisted by an expert) gives more or less time to this part of the performance (the picadores punishing more severely a strong bull than a weaker one)-wounded horses, terribly wounded horses, are brought up again and again to receive the bull's charge. Only animals unable to bear a man are mercifully brained by the grooms of the ring. After each charge the bull is less inclined to continue the work ; then the horses are spurred to where he may be standing and he is urged to charge again by a movement of the bridle or by shaking the lance. This is called citing the bull. It is notorious that the picadores do not try to save their horses poor refuse and cast-offs as they are. The men have direct interest in riding a number to death. The public no longer require them to save the horse; rather are they applauded for taking the risk of the falls, and these are considerable. The fame of the breeder is augmented by many slain, while the espada scores by achieving the death of a bull which has killed many horses. Should the bull be of soft description and refuse to charge a third time (which seldom happens), the red handkerchief is waved. Banderillas de Fuego (darts with fire-works attached) are then implanted in the bull's withers. This is a terrible disgrace to the herd from which he comes. The picadores are fined if they place the lance in any but the proper spot or injure the bull in an unorthodox way.

All through the corrida the cape or capote is ever cheating the bull-the never-failing lure-flaunted, and trailed, fascinating and fixing his attention. By it the expert stops or directs his charge. Of the two things, the man or the cape, the bull will almost invariably go for the cape. This gives many opportunities for the bullfighter to show off. In it is involved the first principle of bull-fighting. By the capote or long cape the bull is tired and beguiled during the first two episodes. It is by the small red cloak, or muleta, that the matador, unaided, en-compasses his death in the last act. Not in-frequently at the sortie of the bull, before he has even charged the first horse, a matador will face him in the centre of the ring with extended cap die. Between outstretched hands he holds the lure well up ; when the bull with furious rush appears almost to have caught him, he swings his arms to one side; with unmoved feet and a sway of the body, the folds of the cape are thrown open on the right, the bull bends his head and follows the trail of colour. He stops his charge and turns to seek the phantom anew. Again the cape is stretched-another rush-again the bull is baulked as the slippery silk goes slithering across his horns. This coup is called La Veronica. The movement called Navarra is of similar risk.

Another trick called de Tijerilla is of still greater danger. In this exhibition the matador has the cape crossed over his breast and held beneath the arms. He has to await the charge and yet free himself and divert the bull's attack. The leap of the lance (Salto de la Garrocha) is performed by the expert awaiting the hull in mid-ring with one of the lances used by the picadores-as the bull lowers his head in the charge he leaps over him. Another risky performance, seldom seen, is to place the foot between the horns and spring over the bull as he charges (Salto del testus). In order that the horses may not shrink from the onslaught, their right eyes are invariably blindfolded. When the president considers the bull has been sufficiently "brought down," the bray of the trumpet heralds the next act, the horsemen retire from the ring, and for a few seconds the bull and the slain are in possession. The banderilleros, each with a pair of darts, now advance. The banderilla consists of a wooden shaft an inch in diameter and 21 feet (or less) in length, covered with bright paper frilling, having at the end a short sharp iron barb. By waving these at arm's length aloft, the banderillero cites the bull to charge. As the bull lowers his head to gore his tormentor, the darts (one from each hand) are deftly implanted between the shoulder-blades, as nearly touching one another as possible, the man reaching over the horns in the act. At the same moment, by a graceful movement of the body he avoids the beast's thrust. This is doing the " turn" well, and indeed a quick and careful calculation of distance is necessary; so much so, that a start with the wrong foot might easily be fatal. The different modes of "putting in the darts" may be divided in two forms. First-awaiting the bull face to face, and second-coming up from behind, when the bull receives them in the act of turning to charge, and before he actually has time to do so. Each form embraces a variety of coups, though, it is needless to say, the best is the face to face system. To go into these and other details would require a volume. With the smart of the first pair of banderillas the bull roars with fury, and bounds hither and thither, frantically trying to rid himself of the unwonted encumbrances, the shafts of the banderillas falling and rattling on his horns to and fro, but firmly attached by the barb, which only pierces skin deep. Mobile in this state he presents a more favour-able mark for the second banderillero, who fixes with greater ease a second pair ; this is called putting in a pair al relance (on the rebound). The darts are usually fixed by the chulos, but on some occasions the public demand that the matadors themselves should do this. By an almost universal custom, the matadors affix the darts in the fifth bull. This is always the pick of the six, and hence comes the Spanish pro-verb "No hay quinto malo," the fifth is ever good. Should only one dart remain sticking, or the pair be badly placed, the public ex-press their disapproval by loud whistling (as in all cases of bungling or cowardice). Four pairs of banderillas sometimes decorate a bull before the seance changes. Should the beast advance at a trot, he affords no chance, and the banderillero must escape to the barrier and wait a better opportunity. Herein lies a fruitful cause of accidents, as he has then no capote for defence, and must trust to speed or his comrades' capas to draw off the bull.

A feat introduced by El Gordito, and since emulated by a few others is the " hazard of the chair " (Suerte de la Silla). The banderillero takes a cane-bottomed chair to the centre of the ring, and, seating himself, awaits the charge. On this taking place he swiftly " plants " the darts and glides to one side, the bull meanwhile tossing the chair on high this looks very effective. But to resume; the trumpets sound once more for the third and great scene, and an expectant hush falls on the vast gathering as the matador steps alone into the arena, and approaching with stately stride beneath the presidential stand, makes an impromptu speech, of which the following may be quoted as an example :

Your Grace, to you, this bull I pledge To slay, and stake my life,

Whereof in token, here's my badge Ere ent'ring on the strife.

Then, turning sharply on his heel, he casts his montera or betasselled cap behind him defiantly,sworn to do or die. Slowly he advances to the bull, grasping in his left hand the muleta or small red cloak, a hole in the centre of which admits one end of a short stick for the better extension of the cloth ; and in his right the long, rapier-like sword. As he steps out, his wiry and athletic form is well shown up by the bright silken attire of faultless fit, gleaming with gold or silver embroidery and precious stones. At a distance stand his satellites, their capotes ready in case of need. By the muleta the bull is induced, with his eye constant to the lure, to charge again and again, the matador "passing " him now on one side now on the other, till the panting animal stops in wonder. Raising and depressing the muleta, the man observes whether the beast is still obedient to its influence. All this time he has been studying the bull's peculiarities, for on this much of his success depends. When the bull assumes a suitable angle and position, the matador raises his sword shoulder high, takes a steady aim and makes his running lunge (that is, in the case of the Volapie-see later). If successful and rightly placed, the bull falls dead, the sword left in to the hilt. The spot aimed at (just in front of the withers) is only a few inches in size. A small deviation is sufficient for failure, and the bull may require several thrusts ; to kill the beast with one counts the highest merit, that is, if properly administered, though thrusts are reckoned good, even if the bull is not killed, provided they are well placed, as the bone often obstructs the sword.

The matadors are recruited from the banderilleros, but the picadors always remain picadors. An interesting ceremony is sometimes to be witnessed in a large ring, when a first-class matador elevates a junior colleague to the highest grade. To do this, instead of killing the first bull, his by right of seniority, he formally hands muleta and sword to the aspirant, who, having achieved the feat, is ever afterwards of premier rank. This is called " taking the alternative."

The prominent matadors of recent years arc the following: Bocanegra, El Gordito, Chicorro, Lagartijo, Frascuelo, Angel Pastor, Mazzantini, Espartero, Guerrita, Reverte, Bombita, Lesaca, El Algabeizo. Each of these was or is the exponent of a particular school. (In Wild Spain, by Abel Chapman and myself, readers will find some account of the Bull Fight as it was in the old days and of the earliest professionals in the art.)

In Portugal a popular spectacle prevails-a so-called Bull Fight, which however partakes more of the nature of a circus entertainment, and is consequently held by Spaniards in very ow esteem. In these shows a variety of feats are gone through ; the banderillas are " put in " as in Spain, but some of the other tricks are of the clown order ; one skilful performance deserves praise-a humane adoption of the Spanish picador's role accomplished by skilful riders mounted on well-trained horses, which indeed is well worth seeing. Finally, when the bull has given sufficient amusement the cabrestos are driven in and the beast makes its exit with them. The Portuguese Bull Fight, though presented in a Spanish setting, differs almost entirely in its execution, as the risk to man or beast is small, owing to the round wooden knob which covers the point of either horn.

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