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The Relations between

Spanish and English



Litt.D., F.B.A.





The Relations between Spanish
and English Literature

THERE are numerous publications, varying in merit, which
deal with what is called the influence of Spanish on
English literature as though the extent of this influence
were established beyond dispute, and as though there were no
reciprocity in the matter. This has the advantage of assuming
what ought first to be proved, and of enabling the writer to
indulge in wide generalizations ; but the method is more con-
venient than scientific. It is safer to speak of the literary
relations between Spain and England, for, if the phrase implies
a certain reserve, at any rate it does not prejudge the case.
My purpose is to lay the main facts before you, so far as time
allows. ' Influence ' is an elastic term, not easily defined ; yet,
however loose your definition, I hope to convince you that
there has been some exaggeration on this subject in the past.
In the earliest period relations of any sort between Spain
and England were necessarily slight (the word ' Spain ' is, of
course, used here merely as a convenient geographical expres-
sion). The Christian inhabitants of the land were too busily
engaged in fighting the Moors to do much else, and the inhabi-
tants of these islands took no special interest in the Peninsula.
A little later many pilgrims from northern countries
journeyed to the famous shrine of St. James, at Compostela,
in Galicia. One such pilgrim is mentioned in Wace's
Roman de Ron a certain Walter Giffard who brought back
with him, as a present from the reigning King of Galicia
to William the Conqueror, the horse which William rode
at the battle of Hastings. This was not, perhaps, an
auspicious beginning. GifTard was unable, for the best of
reasons, to bring back from Spain anything in the shape of a
characteristic literary monument. Learning was confined


to the monasteries, and Spanish literature, as we know it, was
not yet born. That literature cannot be said to have existed
much before the death of the Cid in 1099. Ey that time
the conquering rush of the Moors was over, and they were
henceforth steadily pushed southwards. Yet, while their
political influence was waning, their reputation as masters of
speculative and physical science tended rather to increase
throughout Western Europe, and attracted many foreign
students across the Pyrenees. Among the adventurous
scholars who found their way to Spain a few were English :
Adelard, of Bath, who translated Euclid into Latin from
an Arabic version ; Robert de Retines, the earliest trans-
lator of the Koran, who finally made his home in Spain, and
died as Archdeacon of Pamplona ; that fantastic, rugged
genius, Michael Scot, who passed some time at Toledo,
translating Arabic philosophers, and dabbling in the
mysterious arts which earned him a sinister reputation as a
wizard. It would be easy to add other English names to the
list. Roger Bacon drops a perfidious hint that these trans-
lations from the Arabic were really produced by ' ghosts,' or
literary * devils ' needy Moors who did the work, took
the money, and left the Englishmen to take the credit. This,
no doubt, is one of the little amenities of literature a piece
of malignant gossip, repeated long after the event. It is
quite possible, and even very likely, that these roving
English scholars consulted learned Moors and, still more
' probably, learned Jews when they met with difficulties ;
this was one of their chief reasons for going to Toledo. But
we need not pause to discuss Roger Bacon's story ; for the
performances to which it refers have no real connection
with either Spanish or English literature.

It is not till much later that we meet with aut
cases of literary contact between Spain and En
Historians of literature mention the oddly named Lit.


los gatos as one of the earliest examples, and this cannot be
dated much before the end of the fourteenth century. The
anonymous Libro de los gatos a title which, as has been
suggested, may be a palaeographic error for Libro de los
quentos has often been described as essentially Spanish in
character. This description cannot be accepted, and should
warn us against being too positive in expressing our views
on early Spanish literature. The Libro de los gatos is, in fact,
a rendering into Spanish of the Narrationes of Odo of
Cheriton, a Kentish Cistercian, whose collection of fables
was finished not later than 1222. An abridgement of Odo's
collection, entitled Speculum Laicorum, was made in England,
and is currently ascribed to John Hoveden. The Speculum
Laicorum was likewise done into Spanish, apparently at
about the same date as the Libro de los gatos ; but the
manuscript of this Espejo de legos, which repeats the doubtful
attribution of the original to John Hoveden, remains un-
published at the Escorial. These collections of apologues
are not without a spice of acrid humour ; for us to-day, how-
ever, their chief interest is that they go to prove the existence
of literary intercommunication between Spain and England.
Intellectual commerce was established at last ; but as you
will observe, it was brought about in a devious and tardy
fashion by two translations of cosmopolitan Latin bestiaries
compiled in England a century or two before.

Within a short while the two countries came into more
direct literary relation. An Englishman named Robert
Payne seems to have held a canonry at Lisbon towards the
close of the fourteenth century, and to Payne belongs the
credit of introducing English poetry into the Peninsula.
It was a bold undertaking ; but Payne was not too bold.
The temptation to translate Chaucer must have been strong,
and, if Payne resisted it, we may assume that Chaucer's
irrepressible tendency to parody and his ironical attitude to

life and its problems told against him. As the Portuguese
public had shown that it shared the prevailing Spanish
taste for moralizing, Payne naturally looked about for some
English contemporary who combined the attraction of
novelty with an adherence to mediaevalism. He found
precisely what he wanted in ' moral Gower,' and chose the
Confessio Amantis as a suitable text to be translated into Portu-
guese. The choice was necessarily something of a compromise.
The Confessio Amantis is less didactic than might be expected;
but it is as didactic as a work of art need be, and, for Payne's
immediate purpose, it had the advantage of including
many stories with which most of his likely readers were
already acquainted in one form or another the legends
of Troy, and Alexander, and Apollonius, tales from Ovid
and the Secreta secretorum, from the Seven Wise Men, from
Brunetto Latini's Tresor, and from similar compilations
by mediaeval French and Italian authors. Payne might
reasonably hope that a new setting of such famous
stories would be attractive 1 , and events justified him.
In a short course of time his Portuguese version (which seems
to have disappeared) was' introduced into Spain, and from
it Juan de Cuenca of Huete translated the Confessio Amantis
into Castilian prose. The diffusion of the English original

i. A similar hope was entertained long afterwards by the author (or authors)
of Pericles, Prince of Tyre :

To sing a song that old was sung,

From ashes ancient Gower is come ;

Assuming men's infirmities,

To glad your ear, and please your eyes.

It hath been sung at festivals,

On ember-eves and holy-ales ;

And lords and ladies in their lives

Have read it for restoratives ;

The purchase is to make men glorious :

Et bonum quo antirjuius, eo mehus.

If you, born in these latter times,

When wit's more ripe, accept my rhymes,

And that to hear an old man sing

May to your wishes pleasure bring,

I life would wish, and that I might

Waste it for you, like taper-light.

would appear to have been rapid, for the first draft of the
Confessio Amantis was not finished by Gower till 1390 ; the
Spanish codex, which reproduces the text of this first draft, is
assigned by palaeographers to the end of the fourteenth
century. English literature had at last obtained a foothold
in Spain, but failed to keep it. Juan de Cuenca's Spanish
prose version does not appear to have been appreciated
at the time, and was overlooked till about the middle of
the last century. We cannot pretend to be surprised. The
Confision del Amante is little more than a literary curiosity,
for Juan de Cuenca's translation, though fairly faithful to
the letter, lacks charm and ease. It failed at the moment,
but time brings its revenges, and, after waiting about five
centuries for recognition, the Confision del Amante was
published a few weeks ago at Leipzig under the editorship
of Dr. Adolf Birch-Hirschfeld.

So far the literary impulse, such as it was, had come
from England to Spain, and not from Spain to England.
It needs a microscopic eye to find allusions to Spain and
Spanish matters in English literature of this early period.
If Spaniards knew little of England, the English knew next
to nothing of Spain. The marriage of the future Edward I
at Burgos to Eleanor, half-sister of Alfonso the Learned, is
not the subject of any memorable piece of literature either
in Castilian or English. Nor did the Spanish campaign
of the Black Prince fire the imagination of English poets.
Still, two stanzas of The Monkes T^ale are dedicated to a
panegyric on Peter the Cruel, who is described as the ' glorie
of Spayne.' Although this is not the usual view of Peter's
position in the panorama of Spanish history, there has
undoubtedly been a slight reaction in Peter's favour during
the last century or so, and it would be pleasant if we could
point to Chaucer's eulogy as a proof of the poet's independence
and historical insight. A likelier explanation is that Chaucer

was paying one of the conventional compliments which
laureates exist to supply, and that the two stanzas were
more particularly addressed to John of Gaunt, Peter's
son-in-law. From our point of view, there is more promise
at first sight in Chaucer's introduction of the brass horse in
The Squires Tale. This might seem to be a reminiscence
of an oriental story brought by the Arabs to Spain, and
long popular there : you will remember Clavileno, the magic
steed which Sancho Panza rode when he caracolled among
the spheres, and told such shocking lies, or travellers' tales,
to Don Quixote that even this most polite and credulous
of gentlemen could not pretend to believe them. The
truth is that Adenet le Roi had so to put it ' Europeanized '
the story of this wondrous horse long before The Squires
Tale was written. It had spread all over Europe from
France, and was common property in the fourteenth century.
Other attempts have been made to bring Chaucer into
some relation with Spanish literature ; but, as in the case
of The Squires Tale, they have hitherto been conspicuously

Here and there, in the literatures of Spain and England
during the fifteenth century, a half-hypnotized investigator
may persuade himself that he detects points of contact.
But what do they amount to ? A scrap of what may be
broken English in one of Francisco Imperial's poems/stray
allusions in records of adventure, shadowy resemblances
possibly due to the fact that northerners and southerners
drew from common sources. The theory that Spanish
was widely known in England at this time cannot be main-
tained. It is constantly alleged in support of this thesis
that the first (dated) book ever printed in English was the
Dictis and sayings of the philosophers, translated by the second
Earl Rivers from the Bocados de oro.y This does not take
us far on our road, for Rivers (as I have noted elsewhere)

frankly states in his preface that he translated from a French
version made by Guillaume de Tignonville from the Latin :
manifestly he had never seen the Spanish text, which is itself
translated from the Arabic of Abu'l Wafa Mubashir ibn
Fatik. The case is a typical one.

It was really not till the sixteenth century that the
Spaniards and the English drew nearer to one another. The
achievement of her political unity had greatly increased the
importance of Spain in the Council of Europe, and the dis-
covery of the New World had added still more to her prestige.
Soon after the marriage of Henry VIII to Catherine of
Aragon, Englishmen began to interest themselves in the
intellectual side of Spanish life, and this interest was no
doubt stimulated by the arrival here of such scholars as
Sir Thomas More's friend, Juan Luis Vives, who lectured for
a while at Oxford. Vives may, therefore, be indirectly respon-
sible for an English adaptation of the anonymous Celestina
which was printed between 1524 and 1530. It so happens
that he detested the original, which he denounces as an
infamous work in his De Institutione Christianae Feminae,
a treatise dedicated to Catherine of Aragon. There is not
the least reason why we should agree with Vives : there are
excellent reasons for agreeing with most of his contem-
poraries who ranked the book as a masterpiece. Whoever
may have been the author of this Spanish novel in dialogue,
he wrote with extraordinary force, succeeded in creating
a dramatic atmosphere, and contrived to invest the final
episode the death of one of the ill-starred lovers, and the
suicide of the survivor with something of the poignant
pathos and impassioned exaltation which we meet later
i n Romeo and Juliet. This is the work which some unidentified
Englishman adapted under an interminable title, the first
words of which are A new commodye in English in manner
an enterlude rygbt elygant and full of craft of rethoryk.


It is no marvel of adroit arrangement. If the interlude
was meant to be played on the boards, there is justification
for condensing the first four acts of the Spanish book into
one act ; the substitution of a happy ending for the tragedy
of the original is a feeble and fatal concession to Philistinism.
It has been suggested that the adaptor added his * morall
conclusion and exhortacyon to vertew ' out of deference
to Vives. Assuming that he knew Vives (of which there
is no proof), this would -explain his tamperings : it is
no excuse for them. Yet enough of the original survives
to lend the English interlude a permanent historical interest.
The New Commodye breaks with the allegorical tradition,
introduces human beings on the stage instead of abstractions,
and prepares the way for a drama of character.

Shortly after Vives' visit to England, Spain began to
produce a series of works which attracted the admiration
of Western Europe. Most prominent among the Spanish
authors of the day was Antonio de Guevara, Bishop of
Mondonedo, whose Libro aureo de Marco Aurelio speedily
became the vogue after its first appearance (without the
author's consent) in 1528.) A French translation by Rene
Bertaut was printed in 1531, and came into the hands of
the second Lord Berners, then Governor of Calais, who
'set a bad precedent (too often followed, as we shall see)
by translating Guevara into English through this French
version. Though Guevara is not lacking in ingenious
talent, and though he has a naughtier and more piquant
humour than our squeamish and censorious generation
thinks becoming in a bishop, he finds comparatively few
readers nowadays in Spain itself, and is scarcely known else-
where outside a circle of humble specialists. His rhetorical
bombast and corybantics of style are found fatiguing : what
our forefathers thought to be fine purple patches are now
considered to be tawdry stuff. Perhaps both views are


wrong. However that may be, Guevara fascinated the
reading public of his own time, and Berners' translation, first
issued in 1534, was repeatedly reprinted. This is the basis
of the opinion that English Euphuism, derives from Guevara.
The opinion, though pious, is not de fide. Euphuism,
as Professor Ker has pointed out in this connection, is at
least as old as the speech of Agathon in Plato's Symposium ;
it is found in all literatures, and Guevara himself would
appear to have formed his antithetical style on Latin and
Italian models. It does not seem particularly reasonable
to hold any one man responsible for such a widespread
craze ; but, if it must be so, Guevara's share of responsibility
for English Euphuism is probably less than Berners'. Berners
had already shown his fondness for inversions, alliterations
and antitheses in the preface to his translation of Froissart
ten years earlier five years before the clandestine
edition of Guevara's Libro aureo was printed in Spain.
In his free rendering of Guevara he deliberately accentuates
these innate characteristics. We need not labour the point,
but a word may be added on another matter. Though
Berners had been in Spain, we have seen that he translated
Guevara at second-hand through the French. The question
at once suggests itself : did he know Spanish ? One would
think so from The Cajtell of Lou& Berners' version of
Fernandez de San Pedro's sentimental Car eel de Amor, which
professes (on the title page) to be done ' out of Spanyshe
into Englysshe.' But this is far from decisive. The Castell
of Loue was issued posthumously ; the statement on the
title-page may easily be due to the publisher or printer
(both apt to be romantic and imaginative types of men) ;
and it is as likely as not that in Fernandez de San Pedro's
case, as in Guevara's, Berners had recourse to a French
intermediary, for the obliging Bertaut had translated the
Cdrcel de Amor through an Italian version in 1526.


The question whether Berners did, or did not, know
Spanish is extremely germane, for it affects the general
enquiry as to the extent of Spanish influence on English
literature. If (as is quite possible) Berners did not know
Spanish, who did ? Not his nephew Sir Francis Bryan, /
who translated Guevara's Menosprecio de la Corte y alabanza
de la aldea in 1548, with the candid avowal that he turned
' the same out of Frenche into our maternell tong.' > With
the help of Mr. Underhill's useful monograph, it is easy
enough to draw up a list of books nominally translated from
the Spanish ; but no small proportion of these translations
is the work of amateurs or hacks whose knowledge of Spanish
was infinitesimal. A distinguished exception is found in
Sir Thomas North whose rendering of Guevara much
superior to Berners' appeared in 1557. Yet even North
began by translating from a French version of the text,
as may be gathered from a phrase inserted after the third
book of The Diall of Princes : ' Here followeth the letters
(which were not in the French copye) conferred with the
original Spanish copye.' We may feel sure that the same
course was taken by other translators who were less ingenuous.
The more one examines the facts, the more one is tempted
to think that, though Spanish may have been known to
some extent in court circles and among people of affairs,
practical men such as diplomatists, merchants, navigators,
and perhaps an occasional theologian with a passion for
controversy, it was less cultivated by the literary class in
general. Spain's prestige had increased enormously, and
in all directions. Still, she was chiefly admired in England
not as a centre of culture, but as a country that had
done great things in a practical way. Some of those
material exploits are commemorated by Avila y Zufiiga, y
whose Comentarios was translated by John Wilkinson, and
others are commemorated by the various authors laid under


contribution in Richard Eden's Decades of the Newe Worlde.

Both works were widely read, and it might have been
hoped that a book of such brilliancy and accomplishment
as North's translation of Guevara (which appeared two
years later) would quicken interest in the purely literary
achievements of Spain. Such an interest did, indeed,
develop, but not in any great measure owing to North's
version. The year after his Diall of Princes was published,
Elizabeth succeeded Mary, and the triumph of the Reform-
ation movement in England made a complete rupture with
Spain only a question of time. These radical political
and religious changes naturally affected the literary relations
of the two countries. It was not to be supposed that
Philip II would allow the circulation in Spain of polemical
pamphlets issued by Spanish refugees in London, and,
on the English side, there was a corresponding coldness.
Hence, English readers who took any interest in Spain
were driven, little by little, to turn their attention
to imaginative literature. It is true that treatises on
navigation and points of doctrine works of practical
instruction and malignant recrimination continued to be
translated from time to time ; but we must pass them by,
as we shall pass by the compilations of Hakluyt and Purchas,
published later on in this century and the next.

It is more relevant to note that as early as 1563 Barnabe
Googe gave in his Eglogs, E-pytaphes and Sonettes two versified
adaptations from Jorge de Montemor's Diana, together with
a verse rendering of a few lines by Garcilaso de la Vega, the
chief representative of the Italianate school of Spanish poets. 1

i. Nine years before the publication of Googe's Eglogs, there is an instance
of a Spanish poet who wrote in England. Juan Verzosa was in the suite of
Philip II, and composed, in celebration of the King's wedding with Mary
Tudor, the ' Epithalamie or nuptiall song ' mentioned in The Art of English
Poesie by George Puttenham. This poem, however, was written in Latin (see
Bartolome Jose Gallardo, Ensayo de una biblioteca espanola de libros raros y
curiosos, tomo iv, no. 4507). Verzosa's name is given correctly by William
Vaughan in The Golden Grove, Puttenham prints ' Vargas.'

The record is meagre, yet to attempt to translate Spanish
verse at all was an innovation, and it was some while before
the attempt was repeated. Nevertheless Spanish poetry
found, and continued to find, an occasional reader in England.
This is clear from Ascham's condemnation in The School-
master of Gonzalo Perez' incomplete blank verse rendering
of the Odyssey, and from Abraham Fraunce's quotations
from Garcilaso and his ally Boscan in the Arcadian Rhetorike, y
published some twenty-five years after Googe's Eglogs.
Fraunce, who was unkindly described by Ben Jonson as
a fool, attempted no renderings from the Spanish poets.
Perhaps this is no great loss, for his manifest prefer-
ence for Boscan over Garcilaso leaves an unfavourable
impression of his taste, judgement, and general qualifications ;
and yet we should willingly exchange the superfluous
versions of the everlasting Guevara by Hellowes and Sir
Geoffrey Fenton for a few translations of Spanish lyrics.
These are not forthcoming. The well-meaning, mediocre
Googe reappears in 1579 with a rendering of Santillana's
(Proverbios ; so far as concerns us, he then vanishes, and,
if it were not for Sir Philip Sidney's translations of two
songs from Montemor's Diana, we might search in vain
for any trace of Spanish lyric poetry in Elizabethan literature.
We may disregard Sir Lewis Lewkenor's version entitled
The Resolved Gentleman, published in 1594, a rendering of
Acuna's Caballero determinado : it is not lyrical, and Acufia's
poem is merely a translation of Olivier de la Marche's
antiquated Chevalier delibre.

The case is different with regard to Spanish prose.
Though there is no warrant for the assertion that Lyly
is wholly under Guevara's influence, it is impossible to deny
that A cooling Carde for Philautus and all fond Lovers in
the first part of Euphues recalls Guevara's Menosprecio
de la Corte. Lyly had no doubt read the Spanish book


in Sir Francis Bryan's version made from the French, and
it had confirmed him in his foible for staccato antitheses,
minted phrases, quick venues of wit, and other mincing
fopperies of style. But this taste he had already acquired
from his study of the later Renascence writers, and, as
previously observed, the English variety of Euphuism
cannot justly be said to derive from Guevara alone. Some
slight approach to precision is desirable in discussing these
matters. The result may be less popular than fiction
unavowed, but it can scarcely fail to have the charm of
strangeness and beauty which characterizes any tolerable
approximation to historical truth.

Let us now turn for a moment from profane to devout

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Online LibraryJames Fitzmaurice-KellyRelations between Spanish and English literature → online text (page 1 of 3)