James Fitzmaurice-Kelly.

A history of Spanish literature online

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* * * * *

_Short Histories of the Literatures
of the World_

_Edited by Edmund Gosse_











Printed in the United States of America


Spanish literature, in its broadest sense, might include writings
in every tongue existing within the Spanish dominions; it might, at
all events, include the four chief languages of Spain. Asturian and
Galician both possess literatures which in their recent developments
are artificial. Basque, the spoiled child of philologers, has not
added greatly to the sum of the world's delight; and even if it had,
I should be incapable of undertaking a task which would belong of
right to experts like Mr. Wentworth Webster, M. Jules Vinson, and
Professor Schuchardt. Catalan is so singularly rich and varied that
it might well deserve separate treatment: its inclusion here would
be as unjustifiable as the inclusion of Provençal in a work dealing
with French literature. For the purposes of this book, minor varieties
are neglected, and Spanish literature is taken as referring solely to
Castilian—the speech of Juan Ruiz, Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Tirso de
Molina, Quevedo, and Calderón.

At the close of the last century, Nicolas Masson de Morvilliers
raised a hubbub by asking two questions in the _Encyclopédie
Méthodique_:—"Mais que doit-on à l'Espagne? Et depuis deux siècles,
depuis quatre, depuis six, qu'a-t elle fait pour l'Europe?" I have
attempted an answer in this volume. The introductory chapter has
been written to remind readers that the great figures of the Silver
Age—Seneca, Lucan, Martial, Quintilian—were Spaniards as well as
Romans. It further aims at tracing the stream of literature from its
Roman fount to the channels of the Gothic period; at defining the
limits of Arabic and Hebrew influence on Spanish letters; at refuting
the theory which assumes the existence of immemorial _romances_, and
at explaining the interaction between Spanish on the one side and
Provençal and French on the other. It has been thought that this
treatment saves much digression.

Spanish literature, like our own, takes its root in French and in
Italian soil; in the anonymous epics, in the _fableaux_, as in Dante,
Petrarch, and the Cinque Cento poets. Excessive patriotism leads men
of all lands to magnify their literary history; yet it may be claimed
for Spain, as for England, that she has used her models without
compromising her originality, absorbing here, annexing there, and
finally dominating her first masters. But Spain's victorious course,
splendid as it was in letters, arts, and arms, was comparatively brief.
The heroic age of her literature extends over some hundred and fifty
years, from the accession of Carlos Quinto to the death of Felipe IV.
This period has been treated, as it deserves, at greater length than
any other. The need of compression, confronting me at every page,
has compelled the omission of many writers. I can only plead that
I have used my discretion impartially, and I trust that no really
representative figure will be found missing.

My debts to predecessors will be gathered from the bibliographical
appendix. I owe a very special acknowledgment to my friend Sr. D.
Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, the most eminent of Spanish scholars and
critics. If I have sometimes dissented from him, I have done so with
much hesitation, believing that any independent view is better than the
mechanical repetition of authoritative verdicts. I have to thank Mr.
Gosse for the great care with which he has read the proofs; and to Mr.
Henley, whose interest in all that touches Spain is of long standing, I
am indebted for much suggestive criticism. For advice on some points of
detail, I am obliged to Sr. D. Ramón Menéndez Pidal, to Sr. D. Adolfo
Bonilla y San Martín, and to Sr. D. Rafael Altamira y Crevea.




II. THE ANONYMOUS AGE (1150-1220) 43

(1220-1300) 57

IV. THE DIDACTIC AGE (1301-1400) 74

V. THE AGE OF JUAN II. (1419-1454) 93

(1454-1516) 109


VIII. THE AGE OF FELIPE II. (1556-1598) 165

IX. THE AGE OF LOPE DE VEGA (1598-1621) 211

(1621-1700) 275

XI. THE AGE OF THE BOURBONS (1700-1808) 343









The most ancient monuments of Castilian literature can be referred
to no time later than the twelfth century, and they have been dated
earlier with some plausibility. As with men of Spanish stock, so
with their letters: the national idiosyncrasy is emphatic—almost
violent. French literature is certainly more exquisite, more brilliant;
English is loftier and more varied; but in the capital qualities of
originality, force, truth, and humour, the Castilian finds no superior.
The Basques, who have survived innumerable onsets (among them, the
ridicule of Rabelais and the irony of Cervantes), are held by some
to be representatives of the Stone-age folk who peopled the east,
north-east, and south of Spain. This notion is based mainly upon the
fact that all true Basque names for cutting instruments are derived
from the word _aitz_ (flint). Howbeit, the Basques vaunt no literary
history in the true sense. The _Leloaren Cantua_ (_Song of Lelo_) has
been accepted as a contemporary hymn written in celebration of a
Basque triumph over Augustus. Its date is uncertain, and its refrain
of "_Lelo_" seems a distorted reminiscence of the Arabic catchword _Lā
ilāh illā 'llāh_; but the _Leloaren Cantua_ is assuredly no older than
the sixteenth century.

A second performance in this sort is the _Altobiskarko Cantua_ (_Song
of Altobiskar_). Altobiskar is a hill near Roncesvalles, where
the Basques are said to have defeated Charlemagne; and the song
commemorates the victory. Written in a rhythm without fellow in the
Basque metres, it contains names like Roland and Ganelon, which are in
themselves proofs of French origin; but, as it has been widely received
as genuine, the facts concerning it must be told. First written in
French (_circa_ 1833) by François Eugène Garay de Monglave, it was
translated into very indifferent Basque by a native of Espelette named
Louis Duhalde, then a student in Paris. The too-renowned _Altobiskarko
Cantua_ is therefore a simple hoax: one might as well attribute
_Rule Britannia_ to Boadicea. The conquerors of Roncesvalles wrote
no triumphing song: three centuries later the losers immortalised
their own overthrow in the _Chanson de Roland_, where the disaster is
credited to the Arabs, and the Basques are merely mentioned by the way.
Early in the twelfth century there was written a Latin _Chronicle_
ascribed to Archbishop Turpin, an historical personage who ruled the
see of Rheims some two hundred years before his false _Chronicle_ was
written. The opening chapters of this fictitious history are probably
due to an anonymous Spanish monk cloistered at Santiago de Compostela;
and it is barely possible that this late source was utilised by such
modern Basques as José María Goizcueta, who retouched and "restored"
the _Altobiskarko Cantua_ in ignorant good faith.

However that may prove, no existing Basque song is much more than three
hundred years old. One single Basque of genius, the Chancellor Pero
López de Ayala, shines a portent in the literature of the fourteenth
century; and even so, he writes in Castilian. He stands alone, isolated
from his race. The oldest Basque book, well named as _Linguæ Vasconum
Primitiæ_, is a collection of exceedingly minor verse by Bernard
Dechepare, curé of Saint-Michel, near Saint-Jean Pied de Port; and
its date is modern (1545). Pedro de Axular is the first Basque who
shows any originality in his native tongue; and, characteristically
enough, he deals with religious matters. Though he lived at Sare, in
the Basses Pyrénées, he was a Spaniard from Navarre; and he flourished
in the seventeenth century (1643). It is true that a small knot of
second-class Basque—the epic poet Ercilla y Zúñiga, and the fabulist
Iriarte—figure in Castilian literature; but the Basque glories are
to be sought in other field—in such heroic personages as Ignacio
Loyola, and his mightier disciple Francisco Xavier. Setting aside
devotional and didactic works, mostly translated from other tongues,
Basque literature is chiefly oral, and has but a formal connection
with the history of Spanish letters. Within narrow geographical
limits the Basque language still thrives, and on each slope of the
Pyrenees holds its own against forces apparently irresistible. But
its vitality exceeds its reproductive force: it survives but does not
multiply. Whatever the former influence of Basque on Castilian—an
influence never great—it has now ceased; while Castilian daily tends
to supplant (or, at least, to supplement) Basque. Spain's later
invaders—Iberians, Kelts, Phœnicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Alani,
Suevi, Goths, and Arabs—have left but paltry traces on the prevailing
form of Spanish speech, which derives from Latin by a descent more
obvious, though not a whit more direct, than the descent of French.
So frail is the partition which divides the Latin mother from her
noblest daughter, that late in the sixteenth century Fernando Pérez
de Oliva wrote a treatise that was at once Latin and Spanish: a thing
intelligible in either tongue and futile in both, though held for
praiseworthy in an age when the best poets chose to string lines into a
polyglot rosary, without any distinction save that of antic dexterity.

For our purpose, the dawn of literature in Spain begins with the
Roman conquest. In colonies like Pax Augusta (Badajoz), Cæsar Augusta
(Zaragoza), and Emerita Augusta (Mérida), the Roman influence was
strengthened by the intermarriage of Roman soldiers with Spanish women.
All over Spain there arose the _odiosa cantio_, as St. Augustine calls
it, of Spanish children learning Latin; and every school formed a fresh
centre of Latin authority. With their laws, the conquerors imposed
their speech upon the broken tribes; and these, in turn, invaded
the capital of Latin politics and letters. The breath of Spanish
genius informs the Latinity of the Silver Age. Augustus himself had
named his Spanish freedman, Gaius Julius Hyginus, the Chief Keeper
of the Palatine Library. Spanish literary aptitude, showing stronger
in the prodigious learning of the Elder Seneca, matures in the
altisonant rhetoric and violent colouring of the Younger, in Lucan's
declamatory eloquence and metallic music, in Martial's unblushing
humour and brutal cynicism, in Quintilian's luminous judgment and wise

All these display in germ the characteristic points of strength and
weakness which were to be developed in the evolution of Spanish
literature; and their influence on letters was matched by their
countrymen's authority on affairs. The Spaniard Balbus was the first
barbarian to reach the Consulship, and to receive the honour of a
public triumph; the Spaniard Trajan was the first barbarian named
Emperor, the first Emperor to make the Tigris the eastern boundary of
his dominion, and the only Emperor whose ashes were allowed to rest
within the Roman city-walls. And the victory of the vanquished was
complete when the Spaniard Hadrian, the author of the famous verses—

"_Animula vagula blandula,
Hospes comesque corporis,
Quæ nunc abibis in loca,
Pallidula rigida nudula,
Nec, ut soles, dabis jocos?_"—

himself an exquisite in art and in letters—became the master of
the world. Gibbon declares with justice that the happiest epoch in
mankind's history is "that which elapsed from the death of Domitian
to the accession of Commodus"; and the Spaniard, accounting Marcus
Aurelius as a son of Córdoba, vaunts with reasonable pride, that of
those eighty perfect, golden years, three-score at least were passed
beneath the sceptre of the Spanish Cæsars.

Withal, individual success apart, the Spanish utterance of Latin teased
the finer ear. Cicero ridiculed the accent—_aliquid pingue_—of
even the more lettered Spaniards who reached Rome; Martial, retired
to his native Bilbilis, shuddered lest he might let fall a local
idiom; and Quintilian, a sterner purist than a very Roman, frowned at
the intrusion of his native provincialisms upon the everyday talk of
the capital. In Rome incorrections of speech were found where least
expected. That Catullus should jeer at Arrius—the forerunner of a
London type—in the matter of aspirates is natural enough; but even
Augustus distressed the nice grammarian. _A fortiori_, Hadrian was
taunted with his Spanish solecisms. Innovation won the day. The century
between Livy and Tacitus shows differences of style inexplicable by the
easy theory of varieties of temperament; and the two centuries dividing
Tacitus from St. Augustine are marked by changes still more striking.
This is but another illustration of the old maxim, that as the speed of
falling bodies increases with distance, so literary decadences increase
with time.

As in Italy and Africa, so in Spain. The statelier _sermo urbanus_
yielded to the _sermo plebeius_. Spanish soldiers had discovered
"the fatal secret of empire, that emperors could be made elsewhere
than at Rome"; no less fatal was the discovery that Latin might be
spoken without regard for Roman models. As the power of classic forms
waned, that of ecclesiastical examples grew. Church Latin of the
fourth century shines at its best in the verse of the Christian poet,
the Spaniard Prudentius: with him the classical rhythms persist—as
survivals. He clutches at, rather than grasps, the Roman verse
tradition, and, though he has no rhyming stanzas, he verges on rhyme
in such performances as his _Hymnus ad Galli Cantum_. Throughout the
noblest period of Roman poetry, soldiers, sailors, and illiterates
had, in the _versus saturnius_, preserved a native rhythmical system
not quantitative but accentual; and this vulgar metrical method was to
outlive its fashionable rival. It is doubtful whether the quantitative
prosody, brought from Greece by literary dandies, ever flourished
without the circle of professional men of letters. It is indisputable
that the imported metrical rules, depending on the power of vowels and
the position of consonants, were gradually superseded by looser laws of
syllabic quantity wherein accent and tonic stress were the main factors.

When the empire fell, Spain became the easy prey of northern
barbarians, who held the country by the sword, and intermarried but
little with its people. To the Goths Spain owes nothing but eclipse
and ruin. No books, no inscriptions of Gothic origin survive; the
Gongoristic letters ascribed to King Sisebut are not his work, and
it is doubtful if the Goths bequeathed more than a few words to the
Spanish vocabulary. The defeat of Roderic by Tarik and Mūsa laid Spain
open to the Arab rush. National sentiment was unborn. Witiza and
Roderic were regarded by Spaniards as men in Italy and Africa regarded
Totila and Galimar. The clergy were alienated from their Gothic rulers.
Gothic favourites were appointed to non-existent dioceses carrying huge
revenues; a single Goth held two sees simultaneously; and, by way of
balance, Toledo was misgoverned by two rival Gothic bishops. Harassed
by a severe penal code, the Jew hailed the invading Arabs as a kindred,
oriental, circumcised race; and, with the heathen slaves, they went
over to the conquerors. So obscure is the history of the ensuing years
that it has been said that the one thing certain is Roderic's name.
Not less certain is it that, within a brief space, almost the entire
peninsula was subdued. The more warlike Spaniards,

"_Patient of toil, serene among alarms,
Inflexible in faith, invincible in arms,_"

foregathered with Pelayo by the Cave of Covadonga, near Oviedo, among
the Pyrenean chines, which they held against the forces of the Berber
Alkamah and the renegade Archbishop, Don Opas. "Confident in the
strength of their mountains," says Gibbon, these highlanders "were the
last who submitted to the arms of Rome, and the first who threw off
the yoke of the Arabs." While on the Asturian hillsides the spirit of
Spanish nationality was thus nurtured amid convulsions, the less hardy
inhabitants of the south accepted their defeat. The few who embraced
Islamism were despised as Muladíes; the many, adopting all save the
religion of their masters, were called Muzárabes, just as, during the
march of the reconquest, Moors similarly placed in Christian provinces
were dubbed Mudéjares.

The literary traditions of Seneca, Lucan, and their brethren, passed
through the hands of mediocrities like Pomponius Mela and Columella,
to be delivered to Gaius Vettius Aquilinus Juvencus, who gave a
rendering of the gospels, wherein the Virgilian hexameter is aped with
a certain provincial vigour. Minor poets, not lacking in marmoreal
grace, survive in Baron Hübner's _Corpus Inscriptionum Latinorum_.
Among the breed of learned churchmen shines the name of St. Damasus,
first of Spanish popes, who shows all his race's zeal in heresy-hunting
and in fostering monkery. The saponaceous eloquence that earned him
the name of _Auriscalpius matronarum_ ("the Ladies' Ear-tickler") is
forgotten; but he deserves remembrance because of his achievement
as an epigraphist, and because he moved his friend, St. Jerome, to
translate the Bible. To him succeeds Hosius of Córdoba, the mentor of
Constantine, the champion of Athanasian orthodoxy, and the presiding
bishop at the Council of Nicæa, to whom is attributed the incorporation
in the Nicene Creed of that momentous clause, "_Genitum non factum,
consubstantialem Patri_."

Prudentius follows next, with that savour of the terrible and agonising
which marks the Spagnoletto school of art; but to all his strength
and sternness he adds a sweeter, tenderer tone. At once a Christian,
a Spaniard, and a Roman, to Prudentius his birthplace is ever _felix
Tarraco_ (he came from Tarragona); and he thrills with pride when he
boasts that Cæsar Augusta gave his Mother-Church most martyrs. Yet,
Christian though he be, the imperial spirit in him fires at the thought
of the multitudinous tribes welded into a single people, and he plainly
tells you that a Roman citizen is as far above the brute barbarian as
man is above beast. Priscillian and his fellow-sufferer Latrocinius,
the first martyrs slain by Christianity set in office, were both clerks
of singular accomplishment. As disciple of St. Augustine, and comrade
of St. Jerome, Orosius would be remembered, even were he not the
earliest historian of the world. Like Prudentius, Orosius blends the
passion of universal empire with the fervour of local sentiment. Good,
haughty Spaniard as he is, he enregisters the battles that his fathers
gave for freedom; he ranks Numancia's name only below that of the
world-mother, Rome; and his heart softens towards the blind barbarians,
their faces turned towards the light. Cold, austere, and even a trifle
cynical as he is, Orosius' pulses throb at memory of Cæsar; and he
glows on thinking that, a citizen of no mean city, he ranges the world
under Roman jurisdiction. And this vast union of diverse races, all
speaking one single tongue, all recognising one universal law, Orosius
calls by the new name of Romania.

Licinianus follows, the Bishop of Cartagena and the correspondent
of St. Gregory the Great. A prouder and more illustrious figure is
that of St. Isidore of Seville—"_beatus et lumen noster Isidorus_."
Originality is not Isidore's distinction, and the Latin verses which
pass under his name are of doubtful authenticity. But his encyclopædic
learning is amazing, and gives him place beside Cassiodorus, Boëtius,
and Martianus Capella, among the greatest teachers of the West. St.
Braulius, Bishop of Zaragoza, lives as the editor of his master
Isidore's posthumous writings, and as the author of a hymn to that
national saint, Millán. Nor should we omit the names of St. Eugenius,
a realist versifier of the day, and of St. Valerius, who had all the
poetic gifts save the accomplishment of verse. Naturalised foreigners,
like the Hungarian St. Martin of Dumi, Archbishop of Braga, lent
lustre to Spain at home. Spaniards, like Claude, Bishop of Turin and
like Prudentius Galindus, Bishop of Troyes, carried the national fame
abroad: the first in writings which prove the permanence of Seneca's
tradition, the second in polemics against the pantheists. More rarely
dowered was Theodolphus, the Spanish Bishop of Orleans, distinguished
at Charlemagne's court as a man of letters and a poet; nor is it likely
that Theodolphus' name can ever be forgotten, for his exultant hymn,
_Gloria, laus, et honor_, is sung the world over on Palm Sunday. And
scarcely less notable are the composers of the noble Latin-Gothic
hymnal, the makers of the _Breviarum Gothicum_ of Lorenzana and of
Arévalo's _Hymnodia Hispanica_.

Enough has been said to show that, amid the tumult of Gothic supremacy
in Spain, literature was pursued—though not by Goths—with results
which, if not splendid, are at least unmatched in other Western lands.
Doubtless in Spain, as elsewhere, much curious learning and insolent
ignorance throve jowl by jowl. Like enough, some Spanish St. Ouen
wrote down Homer, Menander, and Virgil as three plain blackguards;
like enough, the Spanish biographer of some local St. Bavo confounded
Tityrus with Virgil, and declared that Pisistratus' Athenian
contemporaries spoke habitually in Latin. The conceit of ignorance is
a thing eternal. Withal, from the age of Prudentius onward, literature
was sustained in one or other shape. For a century after Tarik's
landing there is a pause, unbroken save for the _Chronicle_ of the
anonymous Córdoban, too rashly identified as Isidore Pacensis. The
intellectual revival appears, not among the Arabs, but among the Jews
of Córdoba and Toledo; this last the immemorial home of magic where
the devil was reputed to catch his own shadow. It was a devout belief
that clerks went to Paris to study "the liberal arts," whereas in
Toledo they mastered demonology and forgot their morals. Córdoba's
fame, as the world's fine flower, crossed the German Rhine, and
even reached the cloister of Roswitha, a nun who dabbled in Latin
comedies. The achievements of Spanish Jews and Spanish Arabs call

Online LibraryJames Fitzmaurice-KellyA history of Spanish literature → online text (page 1 of 31)