José Echegaray.

The son of Don Juan; an original drama in 3 acts inspired by the reading of Ibsen's work entitled Gengangere online

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Online LibraryJosé EchegarayThe son of Don Juan; an original drama in 3 acts inspired by the reading of Ibsen's work entitled Gengangere → online text (page 1 of 8)
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/ US " 1 1978

L161 H41

The Son of Don Juan


The Lady from the Sea.

A London Plane Tree, and other Poems.

Iphigenia in Delphi.



A Minor Poet.

Concerning Cats.

A Chaplet from the Greek Anthology.

The Countess Kathleen.

The Love Songs of Robert Burns.

Love Songs of Ireland.

Retrospect, and other Poems.



[/ Preparation.

The Son of Don Juan




Translated by JAMES GRAHAM


T.FisberUnwin PaternosterSq


* t>

Jose Echegaray : a Sketch.


THE author of the plays here done into English was
born in Madrid on the Thursday in Holy Week of
sixty-three years ago. In spite of a fair indication to
go by, his friends are responsible for the curious
assertion that he himself does not know, or has not
taken the trouble to verify, the exact date of his birth.
A reference to familiar sources of chronology enables
us to make a respectful claim to better information on
the point than the person most concerned. So the
*i day of Senor Echegaray's birth may be fixed precisely
" as the igth of April, 1832.

The first three years of the dramatist's life were
v v passed in the capital of Spain. In 1835 he was
removed from Madrid by his father, who had just
obtained the appointment of Professor of Greek at
" the Institute of Murcia. It was in Murcia that Jos
s received the rudiments of his education ; and while
X still a child he entered the institute. Here he studied
Latin under Professor Soriano, Natural History under
Angel Girao, and Greek under his own father. The
-v. boy was early seen to be gifted with brain-power of
<C the first order. And being of a docile and amiable
ilature, of active and laborious habits, having the


advantage of excellent tutors, and being under the
supervision of a kind and cultured father, it is hardly
to be wondered at that his progress in learning was
great and rapid. From the first he displayed that
passion for mathematics which has never grown cool
in him throughout life. His interest in literature
itself was far from absorbing. He showed, indeed,
some liking for novels and romantic dramas. For
tragic writers of the stamp of Corneille and Racine he
could not conceal his disrelish, though the fairness of
his mind would never permit him to ignore or deny
the many beauties of the classic drama. When he
was fifteen years old he became Bachelor of Philo-
sophic Science, and proceeded to Madrid in the
month of October, 1847, to prepare for entrance into
the Escuela de Caminos. In this great school the
mathematical professor was Angel Riguelme, under
whose able tuition young Echegaray devoted himself
with increased ardour to his favourite study. His
affection for literature, it is true, had been gradually
strengthening. In the midst of his graver studies he
had also frequented the theatres. But he never failed
to return with an almost frenzied delight to the branch
of knowledge which afforded such food to his voracious
intellect. To use his own language, he " studied the
higher mathematics ferociously, ravenously." It has
been maintained that in all the records of Spanish
scientific history no one has ever been known to
devote more eager and profound study to mathe-
matics than Jose" Echegaray. His whole spirit
seemed to be inextricably identified with the subject,
to be indissolubly enchained to it. Mathematics
became for him the most absolute of necessities, the
supreme of joys. The following is an experience
related by a fellow student of Echegaray when both


were at the Escuela de Caminos. " Every Saturday
our professor of mathematics was fond of setting us
problems of the most difficult kind, the solutions of
which we were expected to hand in on the Monday.
On a certain occasion the problem given out to us
was of such an excruciatingly intricate nature that the
huge majority of the class had to give up all hope of
mastering it. I was among the unsuccessful ones. I
had seen Saturday, Sunday, pass over without bring-
ing me nearer to a glimpse of light. On the Monday
morning I was all at once inspired with the idea of
going to Echegaray to obtain some hint on a question
which could not have failed to occupy his attention at
least as much as mine. It was an hour before the
time appointed for the opening of the Escuela and the
delivering up of the answers. I set out for Eche-
garay's lodging. I found my friend in his room.
The curtains were drawn and the shutters were
fastened over the windows. On the chimney-piece
was an expiring lamp. On the edge of the bed the
clothes of which were tossed about in much disorder
sat Echegaray in his nightshirt. His head was
bent, and he was in an attitude of deep thought.
The noise which I made on entrance was as unsuc-
cessful as my friendly greeting in withdrawing him
from his abstraction. He confined himself to raising
his hand with a gentle but expressive motion, and to
saying ' Hush ! ' Suddenly he bounded up, un-
dressed as he was, and, to my stupefaction, exclaim-
ing, { Here it is ! ' hurried across to a small board
close at hand. He commenced to draw lines upon
lines and circles upon circles, and dash down figures
here and there, till at length he said, ' The whole
night have I been thinking of that problem, and
look there ! ' And he drew back to show me the


signs all fairly traced, the operation completed, the
problem solved. This rehearsed performance he
repeated in school that morning. He alone did it, to
the admiration and almost to the alarm of the pro-
fessor himself, who, I think, had really given out the
problem without much serious thought of any one
even attempting a solution."

Echegaray had entered the Escuela de Caminos in
1848. He finished his course of study in 1853,
carrying off with him the highest honours that the
institution could bestow, and being placed far and
away the first of all his contemporaries. Meanwhile
the literary and dramatic instinct lay almost entirely
asleep in him. It sprang up fitfully now and then in
a curiosity to assist at the initiatory performances of
pieces by first-rate, second-rate, and even third-rate
authors. Echegaray was always held up as an exem-
plary pupil ; he fulfilled his duties at school with
almost exaggerated obedience and scrupulousness ;
and yet once only once he ran out of the Escuela
de Caminos without permission that he might not be
too late to buy tickets for the first night of Ayala's
drama, " El Hombre de Estado." On leaving the
Escuela, then, in 1853, Echegaray had already seen
many dramas, and had read a vast number of French,
English, Italian, and Portuguese novels, ancient and
modern, of all kinds. But he had not himself essayed
anything in literature. He had not written a verse.
The making of verses appeared to him a thing quite
foreign to his nature. In this the enemies of Eche-
garay are affable enough, for once, to agree with him ;
and they remain constant to their belief when he has
long since had ample reason for changing his mind.
The mathematical rigidity and angularity of much of
his poetry, say these enemies, is not compensated for


even by the daring originality of his conceptions, his
nobility of sentiment, the richness of his imagery, the
splendour of his language ; they deny to him, for
instance, the exquisite ease and melody of Espron-
ceda, the bird-like spontaneity and perhaps fatal
fluency of Jose* Zorilla. In short, during these days
of his dawning manhood, Echegaray had never
dreamed of being a poet, still less a dramatic genius.

The requirements of his profession as tutor of
mathematics, to which he now formally addressed
himself, took him to various important cities
Granada, Almeria, Palencia thus keeping him away
for years from the capital, where he was destined to
shine in whatever he undertook. At last the moment
came for his return to Madrid. He was elected Pro-
fessor of Mathematics at the Escuela de Caminos, at
the very institution where he had achieved such
triumphs as a boy and a young man, and where he
had left behind him so many pleasing remembrances.
And now his professional engagements, and the
extraneous tasks which he voluntarily imposed on
himself, scarcely left him time to breathe. During
the thirteen years of his occupation of the mathe-
matical chair an immense number of classes had the
advantage of his teaching of the Infinitesimal Cal-
culus, Theoretical and Applied Mechanics, Hydro-
statics, Curve-tracing, Descriptive Geometry and its
applications, Solid Geometry, and so on into the
dimmest heights of the science. During this time he
devoted himself to Political Economy, to Philosophy,
to Geology, and to another study, entered upon with
slight equipment by many men, very seriously and
with all his faculties by this man Politics. At the
Bolsa and the Free Exchange Propaganda he de-
livered orations full of subtle thought and sound


doctrine ; in the Ateneo he spoke enthusiastically in
favour of pure democracy ; in presence of the Society
of Political Economy he pronounced numerous dis-
courses appropriate to their several occasions, and
distinguished by an order of eloquence which was
looked upon as remarkable, even in a capital where
almost every one seems endowed with the gift of
picturesque and ready speech. He published different
articles in the, Economzsta, La Razon, and other
periodicals it seeming impossible that he should
give his attention to multitudinous labours of this
kind, and at the same time devote eight or ten
hours of his days and nights to private lessons in
mathematics and to public lectures on other subjects,
among which were Physics and Naval and Military
Engineering. Such excessive work would have
paralysed a nature less vigorous than Echegaray's,
but in the continuance of a portion of it he was
unexpectedly stopped. The private lessons which he
had been giving would have raised an independence
for him. They were prohibited. Echegaray was
made a victim of the administrative despotism to
which the authorities of the Escuela de Caminos were
compelled to bow. He applied for a special license ;
it was refused. In his indignation he was about to
leave the Escuela. But there he was assured that
he would be acting ill-advisedly. If he indeed aban-
doned his career in defiance, he would forfeit all his
rights as a tutor in the public schools of Spain. The
earnest remonstrances of his friends, joined to the
promptings of his own reason, induced him to relin-
quish the design. His most powerful motive against
precipitancy was that he had not the heart to break
with the work of his whole life. He was the soul of
the Escuela. He had become indispensable, alike to


his fellow professors and to his pupils. Mathematics
consoled him for all his trials, and to them he con-
tinued to consecrate himself with a loving fervour
which even he had never surpassed. The mathe-
matical treatises which he then began to send forth
in rapid succession from the press will not be readily
allowed to die by the scientific world of Spain.

Being about this time commissioned by the
Spanish Government to study the works of tunnel
making at Mont Cenis, and having no opportunity of
doing so at leisure on his arrival, a very brief inspec-
tion sufficed for him to understand, or rather to guess,
the whole of the internal mechanical arrangements of
the perforators. And, thanks to this, and without
bringing away with him sketches or plans of any sort,
he, on his return to Spain, drew up a memorial with
the most detailed description a description subse-
quently proved accurate in all essential particulars
of the mechanism and procedure employed in the

All this while there had been nothing in Eche-
garay's tastes or performances that gave evidence of
the poet, the dramatist, or even, in any 'distinct form,
of the man of letters. His literary works, or rather
such works of his as had even a suspicion of literary
flavour about them, had been thus far confined to
certain political orations, to articles on Political
Economy, to publications on Mathematics, and to a
humorous little sketch entitled, "The Comet, or a
Carnival Joke," which appeared in a Madrid news-
paper. Echegaray's partiality for the reading of
novels and for the frequenting of theatres was the
same. Still there was no awakening within him of
any expressed ambition to write in emulation of those
whose productions he admired as a spectator.


Towards the year 1864 it was that Josh's brother
Miguel, then a mere lad, wrote a little piece in one
act and in verse entitled, " Cara o Cruz," which was
put on the stage, and was received in a friendly
manner. And Jose", equally startled and amused at
the spectacle of his boy brother writing smooth and
harmonious verse, rapidly acquired the conviction
that, after all, the writing of verses ought to have no
stupendous difficulty about it. He did not long delay
an experiment. He immediately set about putting
together an appalling tragic argument, which he ver-
sified with tolerable ease. In this fashion was com-
posed his first play. He kept it by him for a year.
Having in the meanwhile dedicated himself with
serious and characteristically energetic study to the
whole question of dramatic writing, he drew the piece
forth and read it a second time. He found it by no
means equal to his first complacent judgment of its
merits. He at once chose a safer hiding-place for it
than previously, and it has never seen the light.
Echegaray was becoming more and more immersed
in these new subjects of interest, when an interruption
came in the most notable public episode of his life.
The revolution of 1868, and the flight of Isabella,
launched him into the full tide of politics. His known
ability naturally fitted him for the playing of a pro-
minent part. He was very speedily selected for
Cabinet rank in the newly-formed Government. He
was created Minister for the Colonies. His new
duties, entered upon and sustained with vigour and
success, removed him for five years from the concerns
of literature and the drama. Towards 1873, on tne
dissolution of the Permanent Commission of the
Cortes, Echegaray's name was proscribed. He was
in imminent danger of death. He escaped to France.


Eventually the ban was taken from his name, and his
life was preserved, through the commanding influence
of Emilio Castelar. This has been ever since grate-
fully acknowledged in a manner which does credit
alike to the great orator and the great dramatist.

In the meantime, during his comparatively brief
exile, Echegaray had written in Paris his drama,
" El Libro Talonario." It is the first of his pieces
which was put on the stage, and the date of its pro-
duction is February 18, 1874 not long after the
author's return to Spain. Nothing commonplace
could come from Echegaray, yet neither in style nor
in argument does the work give any revelation of the
future greatness of the writer. Very little better was
the reception accorded by the critics of Madrid to the
second performance of the new poet, " La Esposa del
Vengador," also produced in 1874. There was not
one, however, who failed to admit the numerous
beauties of either play. The third effort, " La Ultima
Noche," again, was declared to be a chaotic conjunc-
tion of graces and monstrosities : as a work of genius
unimpeachable ; as a display of true dramatic quality,

On the other hand, the public of Madrid, roused to
the highest pitch of interest in the new career marked
out for himself by the celebrated mathematician, the
ex-Cabinet Minister, the returned exile, had been
receiving one after the other of his dramas with
delight. This was not enough for a man of such iron
will as Echegaray. He was deliberately bent on
subduing his critics. His three first dramas had
been experiments. He had been merely trying his

On the 1 2th of October, 1875, was produced " En
el puno de la Espada." The play was welcomed with


unanimous and boundless enthusiasm. The irregular
and fiery genius, whose only enemy seemed to be his
individual rashness, had stepped safely aside from
down-rushing avalanches and gaping precipices, had
scaled the heights reached by those few alone whose
names will live, and was looking down in security and
serenity alike on admiring critics and acclaiming
public. From that night the severest judges of the
Spanish capital recognised that there had come
among them a dramatist of the first rank. Since
that night Echegaray's career has been one long
triumphal march, his path strewn with flowers, his
eyes rejoiced with the smiles of countless friends, his
ears greeted with cries and songs of praise and envy.

One of the most noted peculiarities in the onward
course of Echegaray is the mixture of patient scorn
and fierce energy with which he declines to look upon
difficulties as insurmountable. Not merely in the
solution of a hard problem in mathematics, or in
clearing from his path the impediments which now
make him rule the theatre of Spain as a monarch, does
Echegaray show the force of his will. The rough term
in which Ancient Pistol sums up the attributes of the
Spaniard of Shakespeare's time could not be more ludi-
crously applied than to such a man as Jose Echegaray.

In our country it is natural to conceive that we
can pay no higher compliment to a man than by
proclaiming him to be even as one of ourselves.
Mr. Swinburne recognises and with infallible
justice "a decisive note of the English spirit in
Moliere," as well as in Rabelais. In one way, at
least, in the moral if not in the intellectual sense, in
his resolution to ignore defeat, however incongruous
be the task he may undertake, there appears to the
observer of Echegaray's career something strangely


English. Two anecdotes may be given, alike as proofs
of his almost boundless versatility, and of his constancy
in breaking through seemingly impenetrable obstacles.
On one occasion, he being in a drawing-room with
several of his friends, among whom was a philosophical
critic of some renown, the conversation fell upon
German philosophy. Echegaray, who knew little of
the matter discussed, and less of the German tongue,
deemed it presumptuous to hazard an opinion for or
against the thesis advanced, and maintained an
absolute silence. Gradually, however, the debate
resolved itself into a dispute as to the possibility of
making an exhaustive study of a certain school of
philosophy within a relatively short period. There
can hardly be a more modest or amiable man than
Echegaray, and yet the mere breathing of the word
" impossibility " has been known at times to rouse
him into an attitude of imperial defiance almost
worthy of Caesar or Napoleon. He left the house
with the secret intention of proving that nothing is
difficult to a man with clear brain and indomitable
purpose. From that hour he devoted himself with
patient zeal to no less a task than that of studying
the special school of philosophy just argued about in
the very fountains from which it emanated, in the
original text of the German authors themselves.
With such effect did he apply himself that, two
months later, being in almost the same company, and
the conversation as the narrators will have it, with
the usual emphatic pointing to coincidence veering
round to the same theme, the new student of philo-
sophy displayed a depth of discernment, an acuteness
of independent thought, a readiness of argumentative
resource, a fertility of citation from the German
language itself, which confounded the listeners ; and


apart from the Congratulations on his new linguistic
acquirement, there was an unanimous admission that
Echegaray had expressed himself on the subject as a
master in the midst of novices.

Another time he was in the company of friends who
were engaged in a most exhaustive dissertation on
the art of fencing. Innumerable were the experiences
detailed in illustration of practice with the sabre, the
sword, and the foil. Those who were least excited by
the discussion turned now and then to Echegaray
with a courteous explanation and a general air of
respectful apology for treating of matters in which he
could take no conceivable interest. Echegaray, in
truth, had never held an offensive weapon in his hand.
Next day, however, he appeared at the rooms of one
of the best-known fencing masters of Madrid, enrolled
his name as a pupil, and took his first lesson instantly.
There are living eye-witnesses who tell how, three
months afterwards, the grave mathematician, the
coming lord of the Spanish drama, in a desperate
encounter with foils, repeatedly hit, and at length
actually disarmed his fencing master himself, amid
the intense amazement and uproarious enthusiasm of
bystanders, who counted among them some of the
most expert fencers in the Spanish capital.

Echegaray 's very career as a dramatist might in a
measure be described as a gigantic experiment in the
art of vanquishing difficulties, an elaborate and pro-
longed tour-de-force. He was a spectator of his
brother Miguel's boyish and successful entrance into
the domain of dramatic poetry. He saw nothing to
prevent himself from following in the same path.
His own prescription for writing verse is concise, and
contains a justification of his new departure. He
sums up the full requirements of a poet in " A little


grammar, a little imagination, and a tolerable ear
for music." This is a matter-of-fact style of putting
things which may seem rather like a ruthless tear-
ing aside of the veil from a sanctuary that should
never be revealed to profane eyes. The great un-
published poets whose own works are the result of
the purest inspiration will resent it accordingly. Yet
there is reason for suspicion that Shakespeare might
have expressed himself on the dread mystery in some
such light-hearted manner as Echegaray. The
Spanish dramatist, however, omits one important
condition which he, at least, has well fulfilled. He
has all through life acted up to the letter of Carlyle's
teaching as to the "perennial nobleness and even
sacredness " of " Work." With him the main neces-
sity in all the ways of life is hard labour, untiring
drill, constant self-perfection. In his own example
he seems to declare that even poets cannot straightway
claim to be in the charmed circle of Mascarille's
" gens de qualite"" qui " savent tout sans avoir jamais
rien appris."

Perhaps one of the first things calculated to strike
a student of Echegaray is the^air of gloom which
overhangs many of his graver dramasy Instances
might be given in which a combination of nearly all
the elements of woe and despair, frequently leads to a
catastrophe, from the contemplation of which others
besides the mere hysterical reader will find it difficult
to turn away with calmness. Yet this writer may, in
a certain sense, be said to have in him something
of classic delicacy and reserve with regard, in
especial, to scenes of death. The introduction of
death upon the stage seems invariably a matter of
concern to him. Not that it is ever awkwardly
shrunk from. Indeed, when used as a last resort,


when " fear has had laid upon it as much as it can
bear," " when life is weaned and wearied till it is
ready to drop," then death in the hands of Echegaray
comes forward at times with the weight of an almost
overwhelming consummation. The Spanish drama-
tist, in short, may fairly claim a portion of that
pleasing reverence for the dead which all true artists
have. To adduce illustrations which must appear un-
fashionable in days when half a continent may be
depopulated, without much protest, in the course of a
single volume. The author of "Guy Mannering"
and the author of " Monte Cristo," in the very height
of the gaiety, the gallantry, the majesty of their
descriptions of their own and former times ; Dickens
and Thackeray, in the full flow of their mocking
indignation or their lacerating irony, will be seen all
at once to stop short. Their looks change. Their

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Online LibraryJosé EchegarayThe son of Don Juan; an original drama in 3 acts inspired by the reading of Ibsen's work entitled Gengangere → online text (page 1 of 8)