Mi venga la muerte de Spagna

Yesterday I received a letter from Holland whose relevance was diminished somewhat by its having been stored for four weeks en route, presumably here in Barcelona. Correos, the Spanish post service, is one of the many relics of a culture that Francis Bacon described four centuries ago:

[T]rue dispatch is a rich thing. For time is the measure of business, as money is of wares; and business is bought at a dear hand where there is small dispatch. The Spartans and Spaniards have been noted to be of small dispatch: Mi venga la muerte de Spagna; Let my death come from Spain; for then it will be sure to be long in coming. (On Dispatch, Essays)

As a child I acquired from Victorian and Edwardian historical fiction the notion that the Spanish did one to death in a more dilatory (and dastardly) fashion than more practically-minded folk to the north. I presume that this had more to do with the Black Legend than with historical reality, and that it is in fact nothing more than a specific motif from the mythology of confrontation between a nimble island state and ponderous continental imperialism:

One day in July, 1588, the Armada was descried off Plymouth, one hundred and forty ships sailing in a crescent form, seven miles in length. Beacons flashed the alarm from every hill along the coast, and the English ships hurried to the attack. Light, swift, and manned by the boldest seamen, they hung on the rear of the advancing squadron; poured shot into the unwieldy, slow-sailing Spanish galleons; clustered like angry wasps about their big antagonists; and, darting to and fro, prolonged the fight, off and on, for a week. (Joel Dorman Steele and Esther Baker Steele, A brief history of ancient, mediaeval, and modern peoples, with some account of their monuments, institutions, arts, manners, and customs (ca 1883), found via The Little Professor in an online collection of 19th century schoolbooks)

In Europe Bacon’s deadly differential no longer holds true. If anything it is the Spanish who are now ahead, particularly given Spain’s rise in recent years to world leadership in that most competitive of markets, spectacular high-speed road accidents. I fear, though, that none of us will ever again be able to compete with the US, where GatlingGuns.com sells kits which enable you to add a simple cranked trigger mechanism to several normal guns so as to create something that sounds to me like a fully automatic weapon but which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms classifies as semi-automatic. That’s what I call progress.

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