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A Biographical Fragment



_With a Portrait from
an engraving after Pacheco_.




This biographical sketch is, in fact, a fragment of a book which will
now never come into existence. This particular chapter has been
snatched from the burning by an accident. The name of Luis de Leon
deservedly ranks as high as that of any poet in the history of Spanish
literature; but his reputation as a poet is mostly local, while he is
known all the world over as the subject of a dubious anecdote. The
attempt is now made to render him more familiar than he has hitherto
been to English-speaking people, and to do this, to exhibit the man as
he was, it proved necessary to analyse the two volumes of his first
trial, the evidence of which is brought together in vols. X and XI of
the _Coleccion de Documentos inéditos para la Historia de España_.
Edited by Miguel Salvá and Pedro Sainz de Baranda, these volumes
appeared in 1847; their value is incontestable, but, though they give
the evidence as it occurs in the register of the Inquisition, this
evidence is not arranged in consistent chronological order, nor is it
supplied with an index. The work, printed seventy-three years ago, is
not within easy reach of every reader; and of those who have access to
it not all are patient enough to read steadily through so large a mass
of somewhat incoherent matter. Should any such readers be tempted to
examine the record closely, it is hoped that this sketch will do
something to make their task easier. An attempt is made here to
picture the man as he was, full of fortitude, yet not exempt from
human weakness. I trust that I have avoided the temptation to go to
the opposite extreme, and lay the blame - as has been done - for the
irregularities of the trial at Luis de Leon's own door.

In dealing with his Spanish poems, I have tried not to put his claims
to consideration too high. Laboulaye, in _La Liberté religieuse_,
calls Luis de Leon 'le premier lyrique de l'Europe moderne'. This
phrase dates from 1859, and was addressed to a generation which
delighted in arranging authors in something like the order of a class
list. Though I have the highest opinion of Luis de Leon's genius, I
have not felt tempted to follow Laboulaye's example; I have by
preference discussed, so far as space allows, such points as the
probable chronology of Luis de Leon's poems. Once more I repeat that
this is a chapter of a book that will now never be written.

It may be as well to add at this point a few explanatory words
concerning the plan of accentuation adopted here. There seems to be no
valid reason for applying, in a book primarily intended for English
readers, the modern Academic system to proper names borne in the
sixteenth century by men who lived more than three hundred years
before the current system was ever invented. Except of course in the
case of quotations, that system is applied rigidly only to the names
of those who have adopted it formally (as on pp. 114 _n._ and 191
_n._). I have gone on the theory that accents should be sparingly used
in a work of this kind, and that, as accents are almost needless for
Spaniards they should be employed only when the needs of foreigners
compel their use. It is a fundamental rule in Spanish that nearly all
words ending in a consonant should be stressed on the last syllable.
But since nobody, however slightly acquainted with Spanish, is tempted
to pronounce such words as Velazquez (p. 79) or Gomez (p. 250)
incorrectly, no graphic accent is employed in such cases. Names ending
in _s_ - such as Valbás - are accentuated, however, when the stress
falls on the last syllable: this prevents all possibility of
confusion with the pronunciation of ordinary plural forms.
Place-names - such as Béjar (p. 58) and Córdoba (p. 184) - are
accentuated; so are trisyllables and polysyllables such as Góngora (p.
209) and Zúñiga (p. 57 and elsewhere). It will be seen that, in this
matter, I have been guided by strictly utilitarian principles.
Inconsistencies are perhaps unavoidable under any system. The plan
followed here, while it tends to diminish the total number of accents,
probably involves no more inconsistencies than any other. It is based
on rational grounds, and is, it may be hoped, less offensive to the
eye than the current system. Quotations, I repeat, are reproduced
exactly as they stand in the sources from which they profess to be

With these words, I close what I have to say here on this subject and
commend these pages to the indulgent judgement of my readers.

The following works, or articles, may be usefully consulted by the
student of Spanish.

EDITIONS. LUIS DE LEON: _Obras_, ed. A. Merino, Madrid, 1804-5-6-16. 6
vols. [reprinted with a preface, by C. Muiños Sáenz, Madrid, 1885, 6
vols.]; _Biblioteca de Autores Españoles_, vols. XXXV, XXXVII, LIII,
LXI, and LXII; _De los nombres de Cristo_, ed. F. de Onís, Madrid,
1914-1917 [Clásicos castellanos, vols. XXVIII and XXXIII]; _La
perfecta casada_, ed. E. Wallace, Chicago, 1903; _La perfecta casada_,
ed. A. Bonilla y San Martín, Madrid, 1917; _El perfecto predicador_,
ed. C. Muiños Saenz in _La Ciudad de Dios_ (1886), vol. XI, pp.
340-348, 432-447, 527-537; (1886), vol. XII, pp. 15-25, 104-111,
211-218, 322-330, 420-427, 504-512; (1887), vol. XIII, pp. 32-38,
106-114, 213-222, 302-312; (1887), vol. XIV, pp. 9-17, 154-160,
305-315, 449-459, 581-591, 729-743; _Exposition del Miserere_
[facsimile of the Barcelona ed. of 1632], ed. A.M. Huntington, New
York, 1903.

WORKS OF REFERENCE: _Proceso original que la Inquisicion de Valladolid
hizo al maestro Fr. Luis de Leon, religioso del órden de S. Agustin_,
ed. M. Salvá and P. Sainz de Baranda, in _Coleccion de Documentos
inéditos para la Historia de España_ (Madrid, 1847), vol. X, pp.
5-575, and vol. XI, pp. 5-358; J. Gonzalez de Tejada, _Vida de Fray
Luis de Leon_ (Madrid, 1863); C.A. Wilkens, _Fray Luis de Leon_
(Halle, 1866); A. Arango y Escandon, _Frai Luis de Leon, ensayo
histórico_, 2ª ed. (Mexico, 1866) [the first edition appeared in _La
Cruz_ (Mexico, 1855-56)]; F.H. Reusch, _Luis de Leon und die spanische
Inquisition_ (Bonn, 1873); M. Gutiérrez, _El misticismo ortodoxo_
(Valladolid, 1886); M. Gutiérrez, _Fray Luis de León y la filosofía
española del siglo_ XVI, 2ª ed. aumentada (Madrid, 1891) [_Adiciones
póstumas_ in _La Ciudad de Dios_ (1907), vol. LXXIII, pp. 391-399,
478-494, 662-667; vol. LXXIV, pp. 49-55, 303-414, 487-496, 628-643; in
_La Ciudad de Dios_ (1908), vol. LXXV, pp. 34-47, 215-221, 291-303,
472-486]; J.M. Guardia, _Fray Luis de Leon ou la poésie dans le
cloître_, in the _Revue germanique_ (1863), vol. XXIV, pp. 307-342; M.
Menéndez y Pelayo, _Horacio en España, Solaces bibliográficas_ 2ª ed.
(Madrid, 1885), vol. I, pp. 11-24, vol. II, pp. 26-36; M. Menéndez y
Pelayo, _Estudios de crítica literaria_, 1ª serie (Madrid, 1893), pp.
1-72; F. Blanco García, _Segundo proceso instruído por la Inquisición
de Valladolid contra Fray Luis de León_ (Madrid, 1896); F. Blanco
García, _Fray Luis de León: rectificaciones biográficas_, in the
_Homenaje a Menéndez y Pelayo_ (Madrid, 1899), vol. I, pp. 153-160;
J.D.M. Ford, _Luis de León, the Spanish poet, humanist and mystic_, in
the _Publications of the Modern Language Association of America_
(Baltimore, 1899), vol. XIV, pp. 267-278; F. Blanco García, _Fr. Luis
de León: estudio biográfico del insigne poeta agustino_ (Madrid,
1904); _Acta de la reposición de Fray Luis de León en una cátedra de
la Universidad de Salamanca_ in the _Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas
y Museos_, Tercera época (1900), vol. IV, pp. 680-682; L.G. Alonso
Getino, _La Causa de Fr. Luis de León ante la crítica y los nuevos
documentos históricos_, in the _Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y
Museos_, Tercera época (1903), vol. IX, pp. 148-156, 268-279, 440-449;
(1904), vol. XI, pp. 288-306, 380-397; C. Muiños Sáenz, _El 'Decíamos
ayer' de Fray Luis de León_, (Madrid, 1905); L. Alonso Getino, _Vida y
procesos del maestro Fr. Luis de León_ (Salamanca, 1907); C. Muiños
Sáenz _El 'Decíamos ayer'... y otros excesos_, in _La Ciudad de Dios_
(1909), vol. LXXVIII, pp. 479-495, 544-560; vol. LXXIX, pp. 18-34,
107-124, 191-212, 353-374, 529-552; vol. LXXX pp. 99-125, 177-197; F.
de Onís _Sobre la trasmisión de la obra literaria de Fray Luis de
León_, in the _Revista de Filología Española_ (Madrid, 1915), vol. II
pp. 217-257; R. Menéndez Pidal, _Una poesia inédita de Fray Luis de
León_, in the _Revista de Filología Española_ (Madrid, 1917), vol. IV,
pp. 389-390; C. Pérez Pastor, _Bibliografía madrileña_ (Madrid,
1891-1906-1907), parte ii, pp. 254-255, and parte iii, pp. 404-409; G.
Vázquez Núñez, _El padre Francisco Zumel, general de la Merced y
catedrático de Salamanca_ (1540-1607), in _Revista de Archivos,
Bibliotecas y Museos_, Tercera época (1918), vol. XXXVIII, pp. 1-19,
170-190; (1918), vol. XXXIX, pp. 53-67, 237-266; (1919), vol. XL, pp.
447-466, 562-594.

J. F-K.

PS. Had they reached me in time, the following two items would have
been included in the respective sections of the foregoing summary
bibliography: _Poesías originales de Fray Luis de León_, ed. F. de
Onís, San José de Costa Rica, 1920; Ad. Coster, _Notes pour une
édition des poésies de Luis de León_ in the _Revue hispanique_ (1919),
vol. XLVI, pp. 193-248.


We are all of us familiar with the process of 'whitewashing'
historical characters. We are past being surprised at finding Tiberius
portrayed as an austere and melancholy recluse, Henry VIII pictured as
a pietistic sentimentalist with a pedantic respect for the letter of
the law, and Napoleon depicted as a romantic idealist, seeking to
impose the Social Contract on an immature, reluctant Europe. Though
the 'whitewashing' method is probably not less paradoxical than the
opposite system, it makes a stronger and wider appeal, inasmuch as it
implies a more amiable attitude towards life, and is more consonant
with a flattering conception of the possibilities of human nature. A
prosaic narrative of established facts does not immediately recommend
itself to the average man. Possibly few have existed who were so good
and so great that they can afford to have the whole truth told about
them. At any rate, it is easier to convey a picturesque general
impression than to collect all the available evidence with the
untiring persistence of a model detective and to present it with the
impartial acumen of a competent judge. Moreover, the inertia of
pre-existing opinion has to be overcome. Once readers have been
accustomed to accept as absolutely authentic an idealized conventional
portrait of a man of genius, it is difficult to induce them to abandon
it for a more realistic likeness. In the interest of historical truth,
however, the attempt must be made. We are sometimes told that
'historical truth can afford to wait'. That may be true; but it has
waited for nearly four centuries, and, if it be divulged in English
now, the revelation lays us open to no reasonable charge of
indiscretion or indecent haste.

It may be that the name of Luis de Leon is comparatively unknown
outside the small group of those who are regarded as specialists.
Luis de Leon is nothing like so famous as Cervantes, as Lope de Vega,
as Tirso de Molina, as Ruiz de Alarcon, and as Calderon, whose names,
if not their works, are familiar to the laity. This is one of chance's
unjust caprices. With the single exception of Cervantes perhaps no
figure in the annals of Spanish literature deserves to be more
celebrated than Luis de Leon. He was great in verse, great in prose,
great in mysticism, great in intellectual force and moral courage.
Many may recall him as the hero of a story - possibly apocryphal - in
which he figures as returning to his professorial chair after an
absence of over four years (passed in the prison-cells of the
Inquisition) and beginning his exordium to his students with the
imperturbable remark: 'We were saying yesterday.' Mainly on this
uncertain basis is constructed the current legend that Luis de Leon
was a bloodless philosopher, incapable of resentment, and, indeed,
without a touch of human weakness in his aloof and lofty nature. His
works do not lend colour to this presentation of the man, nor do the
ascertainable details of his chequered career. The conception of Luis
de Leon as a meek spirit, an unresisting victim of malignant
persecution, is not the sole view tenable of a complex character.
However, the recorded facts may be trusted to speak for themselves.


What was Luis de Leon's full name? Was it Luis Ponce de Leon? So it
would appear from the summarized results of P. Mendez printed in the
_Revista Agustiniana_.[1] The point is not without interest, for Ponce
de Leon is one of the great historic names of Spain. If Luis de Leon
was entitled to use it, he appears not to have exercised his right,
for in the report of his first trial[2] he consistently employs some
such simple formula as: - 'El maestro fray Luis de Leon... digo'.[3]
The omission of the name 'Ponce' during proceedings extending over
more than four years can scarcely be accidental. It may, however, have
been due to monastic humility,[4] or to simple prudence: a desire not
to provoke opponents who declared that Luis de Leon had Jewish blood
in his veins.[5] Whether this assertion, a serious one in
sixteenth-century Spain, had any foundation in fact is disputed. It
is apparently certain that Luis de Leon's great-grandfather married a
Leonor de Villanueva, who is reported to have confessed to practising
Jewish rites and to have been duly condemned by the Inquisition in
1513 or thereabouts.[6] This does not go to the root of the matter,
for Leonor de Villanueva is alleged to have been Lope de Leon's second
wife. His first wife is stated to have been Leonor Sanchez de
Olivares, a lady of unquestioned orthodoxy, and mother of Gomez de
Leon,[7] the future grandfather of the Luis de Leon with whom we are
concerned here. If this statement be correct,[8] obviously there can
be no ground for asserting that Luis de Leon was of Jewish blood. But
it must in candour be admitted that the point is not wholly clear from

It is now established that Luis de Leon was born at Belmonte in the
province of Cuenca: 'Belmonte de la Mancha de Aragon' as he calls
it.[10] When was he born? On his tombstone, he was stated to be
sixty-four years old when he died on August 23, 1591.[11] This is
almost the only scrap of evidence available, for no baptismal
registers dating back to the third decade of the sixteenth century are
preserved at Belmonte.[12] Did the inscription on Luis de Leon's tomb
mean that he had completed his sixty-fourth year, or did it mean that,
at the time of his death, he had entered upon his sixty-fourth year?
According to the answer given to these questions, the date of Luis de
Leon's birth must be fixed either in 1527 or 1528.

Apart from the fact that Luis de Leon was taught singing,[13] as
became the future friend of Salinas, we know next to nothing of his
early youth. From himself we learn that he was taken from Belmonte to
Madrid when he was five or six, that at the age of fourteen he was
entered at Salamanca University, where one of his uncles - Francisco de
Leon - was lecturer on Canon Law, and that shortly afterwards he
resolved to enter a religious order.[14] The eldest son of a
judge,[15] Luis de Leon renounced most of his share of the paternal
estate,[16] and gave it up to one - or both - of his younger brothers
Cristóbal and Miguel, each of whom had been _veinticuatro_ of Granada
at some date previous to April 15, 1572.[17] On January 29, 1544, Luis
de Leon was formally professed in the Augustinian order.[18] In his
monastery we may plausibly conjecture that he led a solitary and
bookish existence, poring over his texts and attending lectures
assiduously. As early as 1546-1547 his name appears on the list of
students of theology at Salamanca; the registers of theological
students covering the years 1547-1548 to 1550-1551 are missing; Luis
de Leon's name does not appear in the register for the academic year
1551-1552, but it recurs in the University books for the years
1552-1553 and 1554-1555. He there figures still as a student of
theology.[19] He would seem, therefore, to have shown no amazing
precocity in the schools; but his application, we may be sure, was
intense, and there is nothing rash in assuming that during part of
the two years that he was absent, as he tells us,[20] from Salamanca,
he was lecturing at Soria. The remaining eighteen months he probably
devoted to exegetical studies at Alcalá de Henares, where he
matriculated in 1556.[21] He was about thirty when he rather
unexpectedly graduated as a bachelor of Arts at the University of
Toledo.[22] Why he preferred to take his degree at Toledo instead of
at Salamanca is not clear; it is plausibly conjectured that economy
may have been his motive, as the obtaining of a bachelor's degree at
Salamanca was an expensive business.[23] Confirmation of this
conjecture is afforded by the fact that he speedily returned to his
allegiance, was 'incorporated' as a bachelor at Salamanca in 1588,
graduated there as a licentiate of theology in May 1560, and in the
following month became a master of theology.[24] It soon became clear
that he did not regard a University degree as a mere distinction. The
retirement of Gregorio Gallo caused a vacancy in the chair of
Biblical Exegesis at Salamanca. Luis de Leon, though but a master of a
few months' standing, presented himself as a candidate for the post.
He failed to obtain it, being defeated by Gaspar de Grajal, a future
ally and fellow victim:[25] so far as can be ascertained, this was
Luis de Leon's sole academic check. Manifestly he was not daunted. He
claimed, and established, his right to take part in certain
examinations in his faculty,[26] and 'con mucho exceso' thwarted the
designs of the famous Domingo Bañez, whom he afterwards described as
'enemigo capital'.[27] His combativeness did him no immediate harm,
for, in December 1561, he was elected Professor of Theology at
Salamanca.[28] He was obviously not disposed to hide his light under a
bushel, nor to perform his academic duties in a spirit of humdrum
routine. Whatever he did, he did with all his might, and his strenuous
versatility made him conspicuous in University life. In 1565 he was
transferred from the theological chair to the chair of Scholastic
Theology and Biblical Criticism, in which he succeeded his old master
Juan de Guevara.[29]

Such successes as Luis de Leon had hitherto won he owed mainly to his
own talents.[30] Brilliant as he was, there is no reason to assume
that he was personally popular in Salamanca.[31] It does not appear
that he made any effort to win popularity; nor is it certain that he
would have succeeded even if he had sought to win it. His temper was
impulsive, his disposition was critical and independent; his tongue
and pen were sharp and made enemies among members of his own order;
moreover, he contrived to alienate the Dominicans, a powerful body in
Salamanca, as in the rest of Spain. No doubt he had many admirers,
especially among his own students. Yet the University, as a whole,
stood slightly aloof from him, and before long in certain obscurantist
circles cautious hints of latitudinarianism were murmured against him.
For these mumblings there was absolutely no sort of foundation.[32]
As might be inferred from the simple fact that he was afterwards
chosen to be the first editor of St. Theresa's works, Luis de Leon was
the most orthodox of men. His selection for this piece of work may
have been due to the influence of the saint's friend and successor,
Madre Ana de Jesús, who had the highest opinion of him.[33] But it was
not often that he produced so favourable a personal impression; he had
not mastered the gentle art of ingratiation; it is even conceivable
that he did not strictly observe St. Paul's injunction to 'suffer
fools gladly'.[34] Though fundamentally humble-minded, he was
intolerant of what he thought to be nonsense: a quality which would
perhaps not endear him to all his colleagues. He set a proper value on
himself and his attainments; he was prone to sift the precious metal
of truth from the dross of uninformed assertion; he had an incurable
habit of choosing his friends from amongst those who shared his
tastes. A good Hebrew scholar, he was on terms of special intimacy
with Gaspar de Grajal and with Martin Martinez de Cantalapiedra,[35]
respectively Professors of Biblical Exegesis and of Hebrew in the
University of Salamanca. Frank to the verge of indiscretion and
suspecting no evil, Luis de Leon scattered over Salamanca fagots each
of which contained innumerable sticks that his opponents used later to
beat him with. Lastly, he had the misfortune, as it proved later, to
differ profoundly on exegetical points from a veteran Professor of
Latin, Rhetoric, and Greek.[36] This was Leon de Castro, a man of
considerable but unassimilated learning, an astute wire-puller and
incorrigible reactionary whose name figures in the bibliographies as
the author of a series of commentaries on Isaiah - a performance which
has not been widely read since its tardy first appearance in 1571. The
delay in publishing this work, and the contemporary neglect of it,
were apparently ascribed by Castro to the personal hostility of Luis
de Leon who, though he did not approve of the book, seems to have been
perfectly innocent on both heads.[37]

The fires of these differences had smouldered for some years when,
during the University course (as it appears) of 1568-1569, Luis de
Leon gave a series of lectures wherein he discussed, with critical
respect, the authority attaching to the Vulgate. The respect passed
almost unnoticed; the criticism gave a handle to a group of vigilant
foes. Since 1569 a good deal of water has flowed under the bridges
which span the Tormes, and it is intrinsically likely that, were the
objectionable lectures before us, Luis de Leon might appear to be an
ultra-conservative in matters of Biblical criticism. But this is not
the historical method. In judging the action of Leon de Castro and his
allies we must endeavour to adjust ourselves to the sixteenth-century
point of view. Matters would seem to have developed somewhat as
follows. In 1569 a committee was formed at Salamanca for the purpose
of revising François Vatable's version of the Bible; both Luis de Leon
and Leon de Castro were members of this committee,[38] and as they
represented different schools of thought, there were lively passages
between the two. It is customary to lay at Castro's door all the blame
for the sequel. Nothing is likelier than that Leon de Castro was
incoherent in his recriminations and provocative in tone: it is
further alleged that his commentaries on Isaiah contained gratuitous
digs at the views on Scriptural interpretation ascribed to Luis de
Leon. It may well be that Luis de Leon, who had in him something of
the irritability of a poet, took umbrage at these indirect attacks,
and entered upon the discussion in a fretful state of mind. According
to Leon de Castro, whose testimony on this point is uncontradicted,
the climax came about in connexion with the text: 'Out of the mouth of
babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise.' Castro obstinately
maintained that Vatable's interpretation of this passage was an
interpretation favoured by the Jews against whom he cherished an
incorrigible prejudice. Luis de Leon is reported to have lost patience
at this assertion, and to have said that he would cause Castro's
_Commentaria in Essaiam Prophetam_ to be burnt. Castro, whatever his
faults, was not the man to be cowed by a threat, and he retorted with
the remark that, by God's grace, this should not come to pass, and
that if there were any burning it would be applied rather to Luis de
Leon and his family.[39] Having fired his bolt, but conscious that he
was in a minority on the committee, Castro concluded with the sulky
declaration that he did not propose to attend any further meetings of

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