No, I am not going to strum some more on why male celebs, elderly business tycoons, doting bankers, former politicians, are sought after by starlets, would-be models and the like, because you know the answer to that: the spotlight and, yes, money and security. And I am not against it as a business deal: one party offers youth and beauty and the other party puts security and money on the scale. What’s wrong with that?
Bear with me.
The XIX century, 1800 to 1899, is the period that gave birth to more outstanding people everywhere than any other I can think of. Without those outstanding people our XXI century would have not achieved so much in science, art, literature and especially technology… so far. There is more to come.
Of late I have focused my interest in one XIX century Spaniard: don Juan Valera. And I know that if I step out and stroll the avenues and parks of Madrid, in Spain, and ask people whether they know who Juan Valera was, I will get an “I don’t know” for an answer. I am not living in my Ivory Tower, in the belief that Juan Valera is a household name in his own native land. As we know, a prophet is not without honor, save in his own country, and in his own house, as Matthew tells us in no uncertain terms. If not, ask me.
I know also that if I go around Washington D.C. and ask passers-by who Mr. Thomas Francis Bayard was, people will shrug their shoulders. Yet Mr. Bayard. 1828-1898, a United States Senator who made three unsuccessful bids for the nomination to the Presidency of the country, was appointed Secretary of State. This is crucial to our narrative as, because of this appointment, he met Juan Valera in the Capital of the United Sates.
Valera was a product of the XIX century. His full name was long, true to the Hispanic tradition: Juan Valera y Alcalá Galiano, born in, Cabra, Córdoba in 1824. He died in Madrid in 1905. Let us note that Bayard was 4 years his junior. This bears with our story.
Valera was an intellectual, linguist, translator, writer, critic, novelist and diplomat. He wrote a famous novel, Pepita Jiménez, among many other writings that prove he was well-educated, travelled, and even a social lion of sorts. He cut a good figure and was a ladies man, popular and sought after. He had affairs in Naples, Vienna, Moscow, Lisbon and Washington, where he was the Spanish Ambassador from 1884-1886. He understood women and portrays them in his novels better than he does male characters.
In 1867, at age 42, he married Dolores Delavat, a woman 22 years younger, who did not think much of him and ignored Valera, probably even dispised him.
Let’s get to the point: the Secretary of State I mention above, Mr. Bayard, had a daughter, Catherine Lee Bayard, 1857-1886, who met Mr. Valera, the Spanish Ambassador, and became involved with this man who was 62 at the time, and married, to boot. She was an intellectual and a linguist who spoke French and Spanish well. He was flattered, of course, and mentions the young woman in his correspondence: “Por esta mujer me hubiera quedado aquí, y aun hubiera renegado de la patria y me hubiera hecho yankee”. That is saying a lot for an Ambassador.
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They were in love. In one of her letters she writes to him: “Adieu, Me Ramava Tule. Ich liebe dich, je t’aime, te amo, I love you. This is a declaration. Kathleen.” She was head-over-heels in love with the older man, whom she calls “my child” several times.
The extent and existence of the affair has been hushed, of course, but the fact remains that when Miss Bayard discovered that Valera was being transferred to Brussels she commited suicide. She was 29, from a good and well-to-do family, and Juan Valera was 62, I repeat.
Being 62 in 1886 was not the same as being 62 in 2014.
Mystery surrounds Catherine’s sudden death, or suicide, but even though she had several suitors, and was once betrothed to a young man, her love, her true love was a Spanish older man, who represented Spain in Washington.
In their correspondence the question of “age” is never brought up.
Allow me to be lyrical for once: Love knows no age limits, locations, nationalities, races, cultures, and is ruled by randomness and fate that brought Catherine Lee Bayard and Juan Valera together.