If you read about Washington Square Park in New York City today, you certainly won’t see images like this which was painted in 1897. Still the days of horse-drawn conveyances, we see dusk settling in on a day that has seen fresh snowfall. The Washington Square Arch looms in the background. The streets and the park are still clean and white and fresh, and people are busy setting out for their evening excursion. I imagine it is a Saturday night…the gentlemen are in top hats and the ladies dressed in refinement. Is that group of three young women giggling as they pass the carriage? The horse is certainly watching something. The couple with their backs to us are waiting for their cab. The scene looks cold but strangely cozy. What do you see?
(© Text by Don Juan Gómez-Cuétara. Detail of painting by Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velázquez Felipe III, King of Spain 1634-35)
Like a magic crucible, wherein history and art are fused, the Spanish horse, our partner in love and grief, slave to our glory, is a horse at once fiery and docile, whose proud neigh proclaims to the world the beauty of his race, pride of men who are not prepared to abandon chivalry, dream of young men who refuse to accept a way of life which holds no place for him.
(“Horsemanship in the Riding School,” by Florence Baillie-Grohman. Country Life, Vol. XIII.-No. 336, Saturday, June 13, 1903. Pages 780-783. Engravings by Johann Elias Ridinger (2-16-1698 to 4-10-1767) from his books “The New Art of Riding” and “The New Riding School”.)
The term art would not have been applied by the horseman of the old school to that kind of riding which enables a man to stick on in some fashion or other, while his horse carries him across country after, or too often on to, the hounds; nor to certain monkey-like performances on the neck of the horse by which some modern jockeys bring their mounts first past the winning-post. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, when Johann Elias Ridinger limned the pictures here given of a riding school, the art of riding meant that knowledge which enabled both horse and rider to show themselves off to best advantage, in all the dignity and ceremony befitting the position of a courtly cavalier and a stately steed.
(Extract from “Recollections of a Page at the Court of Louis XVI: Chapter, The Pages,” by Charles-Alexandre-François-Felix, Comte de France de Hézecques, Baron de Mailly. (Author Hézecques born 7-30-1774, died August 1835.) Originally written 1804. Edited, from the French, by Charlotte M. Yonge, 1873)
[NOTE from K.M. What was life really like for a young aristocrat serving as a page to the King of France and taking early life lessons from the paramilitary organization of the Grand Stable? From 1784, from the age of 12 through the age of 18, this young Count served his King…read on for a very interesting story.]
“The imagination always recurs with delight to the happy days of youth. In the thorny paths of life, a moment of sweet satisfaction is often felt in turning the thoughts to these peaceful years of tender age when the only sorrow was to be thwarted in some little project, when privations were so short, and tears so soon forgotten.”
(Lilith: A Romance by George MacDonald, excerpt Chapter XXXI. First published in 1895. Detail from “The Prince Rode Out In The Moonlight” by John Bauer, 1882-1918.)
I stood and watched the last gleam of the white leopardess melt away, then turned to follow my guide—but reluctantly. What had I to do with sleep? Surely reason was the same in every world, and what reason could there be in going to sleep with the dead, when the hour was calling the live man? Besides, no one would wake me, and how could I be certain of waking early—of waking at all?—the sleepers in that house let morning glide into noon, and noon into night, nor ever stirred! I murmured, but followed, for I knew not what else to do.
The librarian walked on in silence, and I walked silent as he. Time and space glided past us. The sun set; it began to grow dark, and I felt in the air the spreading cold of the chamber of death. My heart sank lower and lower. I began to lose sight of the lean, long-coated figure, and at length could no more hear his swishing stride through the heather. But then I heard instead the slow-flapping wings of the raven; and, at intervals, now a firefly, now a gleaming butterfly rose into into the rayless air. By and by the moon appeared, slow crossing the far horizon.
“You are tired, are you not, Mr. Vane?” said the raven, alighting on a stone. “You must make acquaintance with the horse that will carry you in the morning!”
He gave a strange whistle through his long black beak. A spot appeared on the face of the half-risen moon. To my ears came presently the drumming of swift, soft-galloping hoofs, and in a minute or two, out of the very disc of the moon, low-thundered the terrible horse.