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Spanish Literature

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

When Napoleon in 1808 humiliated Spain by treacherously seizing its King and placing his own brother Joseph on the throne, the intensely proud and loyal people rose in fury against the outrage. Although in open warfare they were soon overcome, they maintained a guerilla struggle for years. This seemingly insignificant trouble proved to be the beginning of the end for the hitherto irresistible Emperor. It might have been expected that this momentous uprising of the nation would have important effects on its literature, which had long been under French influences. But the style of the most ardent patriotic writers remained thoroughly French.

Manuel José Quintana (1772-1857) has been called the Spanish Tyrtaeus, from the aid which his popular songs lent to the patriotic cause. His spirited drama, "Pelayo" (1805), and his rhetorical "Lives of Celebrated Spaniards" (1807) were written to incite opposition to foreign oppression. When the Bourbon King, Ferdinand, was restored, Quintana, as a constitutionalist, suffered imprisonment for six years. Later some amends were made for this unworthy treatment, and in 1855 Queen Isabella II crowned with laurel the aged poet who had been her tutor.

The first Romantic poet of Spain was Angel de Saavedra, Duke of Rivas (1791-1865), who held firmly to the national traditions in his epics, "Florinda" (1825), which treated of the Moorish conquest of Spain, and "El Moro Esposito" (The Moorish Foundling) (1835). His drama, "Don Alvaro," also maintained the manner of the old theater of Spain. But José de Espronceda (1810-1842) belonged to the cosmopolitan school of Byron. His lyrics are full of fiery defiance to authority. His short life was unsettled and his Liberal politics made him some-times an exile. During a residence in London he wrote a pathetic elegy "To Spain." An unhappy love affair inspired his "Canto to Teresa." His unfinished "El Diablo Mundo" (The World Spirit) is the story of an old man who receives the boon of immortal youth, but yields to the cynical instruction of a hardened villain, and enters upon a career of crime. In "The Student of Salamanca" Espronceda portrayed the lawlessness of his own character.

Don José Zorrilla (1817-1893) was the next representative of the Romantic school. The legendary history of Spain was ransacked for subjects for his dramas and epics. His "Don Juan Tenoro" (1844) gave a religious turn to that Spanish story. His comedies in the old Spanish style suited the popular taste. He wrote hastily, carelessly and voluminously. He went to Mexico, where he was patronized by the Emperor Maximilian. Before his protector's death he returned to Spain and was assisted by others until the Government granted him a pension. In 1889 he was publicly crowned with gold at Granada. His aim had been to revive national independence in literature. The last dramatist who adhered to the old Spanish style was Manuel Breton de los Herreros (1796-1873), who wrote a hundred comedies.

Like George Eliot and George Sand, the most eminent woman writer of Spain took a masculine pen-name in order to obtain a fair hearing. Fernan Caballero is the assumed name of the lady who was at first Cecilia Böhl de Faber (1796-1877). Her father, a German merchant in Cadiz, had married a Spanish lady of noble family. The daughter, born at Morges, Switzerland, was educated in Germany and traveled much with her parents, but was always passionately devoted to Spain. She was married thrice to Spaniards, lost her fortune, and when past fifty turned to literature for support. Her story, "La Gaviota" (The Sea-gull), appearing in 1849, at once made her famous. Other stories followed, but never surpassed the first. They are deeply imbued with fervent Catholicism, devotion to the glories of the past, hostility to all innovations and modern improvements. The poetic side of Andalusian peasant life is especially revealed in her books. She resided in Seville, and had favor at the court of Queen Isabella II. For ten years she was governess of the royal children. In 1859 she published the first collection of Spanish fairy tales. Her object throughout was to sketch with exactness the home life of the people of both higher and lower classes, and thus give a correct view of Spain and its people. Though aiming at real-ism, as well as morality, her cheerful religious spirit helped to give an ideal color to her sketches.

Another writer who assisted in making the modern novel popular was Telesforo Truebay Cosio (1798-1835), who emigrated to England in 1823, and wrote there most of his works. He plainly imitated Sir Walter Scott, but drew his subjects from Spanish history. He wrote also historical novels and other works in English.

Among those who strenuously opposed foreign influences was Don Serafin Estebanez Calderon (1801-1867), who collected a vast library of old Spanish literature, especially ballads, now incorporated in the National Library at Madrid. Besides some poems and historical works he published a novel and a pleasing volume of "Andalusian Sketches." In the effort to make his style idiomatic and to avoid foreign words he used rare and provincial terms which obscure his meaning. Calderon was known as "The Solitary." His nephew, the distinguished statesman, Canovas del Castillo, wrote his biography.

The connecting link between the earlier style of novels and the present is found in the writings of Pedro Antonio de Alarcon (1833-1891). In early life he was democratic but he afterward became conservative and was a councilor of state under Alfonso XII. Through most of his career he was an active journalist, and in 1859 he took part in a campaign in Morocco. His diary of this period made a fortune for his publishers. His most celebrated novel, "The Three-cornered Hat," is a quaint and humorous sketch of old-fashioned village life. "The Child of the Ball" is highly esteemed. "The Scandal" and "The Prodigal" are sensational stories. Alarcon was also a poet and critic of no small merit.

CONTEMPORARY WRITERS

The Revolution of 1868 drove from the throne of Spain the profligate Queen Isabella II, who had compensated for her scandalous behavior by allowing the ecclesiastical authorities to control the press. When a more liberal form of government was introduced, the press was granted freedom. This was soon seen in the criticisms of old institutions, and in the expression of modern opinions. In fiction the influence of English, Russian and French writers became manifest. Yet there was also a strong national spirit which led the writers to seek themes at home, either of the present day or the past, not too remote.

The honor of inaugurating the realistic novel in Spain is usually ascribed to José Maria de Pereda, who published in 1859 sketches of the manners and customs of Santander the district on the Northern coast, in which he was born in 1834. His first novel, "Men of Property," which appeared in 1874, showed the rise of a country grocer, who is elected to the Cortes, but is afterward cheated out of his property and falls back into the lower class. In his second novel, "Don Gonzalo Gonzalez" (1878), the leading character has acquired wealth in the colonies and returns to enjoy it, but owing to his innate vulgarity finds him-self despised and avoided. In other books Pereda describes with equal force the life of the sea coast and the mountains of his native province. His style is forcible and idiomatic. The dialogue is true and racy. His humor is genuine Spanish of the old type. Pereda is intensely conservative, an upholder of absolutism. In literature he is opposed to both Romanticism and classicism.

Juan Valera, born in 1827, still holds an eminent place. He has been a professor of foreign literatures at Madrid, was secretary of legation in various capitals, and minister at Washington. Since his return to Madrid he has been afflicted with blindness. He had distinguished himself as a critical essayist and translator of poetry before he wrote his first novel "Pepita Ximenez" (1874). In it he endeavored to portray the conflict in the mind of a devout young man, who had been trained by his uncle, the dean of a cathedral, to be a priest, while his father wished him to marry and inherit his estate. Pepita is a handsome young widow whose modest charms seize upon his heart and finally control his action. Donna Luz; the heroine of another novel, also meets an interesting priest, but marries a man of the world. "The Illusions of Doctor Faustino" (1876) is the tragical story of a poor and philosophic patrician, who, finding himself unable to loosen the tangle of worldly affairs, commits suicide. In "Commander Mendoza" (1877), a story of the last Century, a Spanish commander having acquired a fortune in Peru, returns to his native land. There he meets Donna Blanca, with whom he had a liaison in Lima, and her daughter, Clara, who is also his child. To enable the latter to marry the man of her choice, the commander secretly sacrifices his wealth. Yet he is rewarded by winning the love of Lucia, his daughter's friend. All Valera's works are of the most polished style; he never introduces imitation of dialect.

Benito Perez Galdos has been a prolific novelist in different styles. He was born at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands in 1845, and at the age of eighteen went to Madrid to study law. After trying the drama to no purpose, he began to write novels and in 1868 published "The Golden Fountain," a Romantic story which told of the rebellion of the young men of 1820 against the reactionary policy of Ferdinand VII. His next book, "The Fearless One" (1872) told the faithful love of a noble maiden for a youth who fell in that Rebellion. But in 1873 Galdos, in imitation of the Erckmann-Chatrian stories, began to issue a series of "National Episodes." They relate to the deliverance of Spain from the domination of the French; and the same characters appear in the successive stories. The first gives the Spanish view of the battle of Trafalgar; the second tells of the baggage which Joseph Bonaparte tried to carry out of Spain. In the "Battle of Salamanca" Gabriel, who tells all the stories, has risen through many adventures to be major and gives important aid to Wellington. In a second series Salvador Monsalud is the principal character. He had been driven by want to take service with the French, but is hated and. despised by his countrymen. The "Episodes" are well constructed, graphic in style, full of life and movement. Galdos wrote next some "purpose" novels, of Which "Donna Perfecta," is the best. In this a bright young engineer who is about to marry his beautiful cousin, finds unexpected difficulties arise in his way; he shocks the prejudices and incurs the enmity of everybody in the village except his true-hearted betrothed; but it is discovered that all these troubles are due to one woman who wished her homely son to win the prize. Galdos turned at last to simple realism, setting down the ordinary affairs of life without any purpose of teaching or surprising the reader. Yet in these he happens upon the deepest tragedies, as in "The Disowned" (1881), and "Reality" (1890).

A younger novelist, whose stories have been translated into various languages, is Armando Palacio Valdes, born in 1853. He excels in rural description and the portraiture of young women, using sometimes the freedom of French writers, yet adhering to morality. He was born at Entralgo, near Oviedo, in the northwest of Spain, and studied law at Madrid. These places and neighboring towns furnish the scenes of his novels. He became secretary of the Atheneum at Madrid, and editor of "The European Review." His first novel, "Senorito Octavio'' (1881) was humorous, sentimental, and somewhat melodramatic. A better one is his "Martha and Mary" (1883) translated into English under the title "The Marquis of Penalta." Mary, the young and beautiful heroine, gifted with a splendid voice, has become possessed with so strong religious devotion that she practices the asceticism of medieval saints. She also is induced to believe that placing Don Carlos on the throne will advance the cause of religion, and therefore engages in a plot which results in her being arrested. A realistic romance is "The Fourth Estate" (1888), which tells of the founding of a newspaper in a primitive village. The main plot shows how a young engineer's engagement with a plain sincere girl is broken by the wiles of her prettier younger sister. In "Sister San Sulpicio" (1889) a gay girl who has been induced to enter a convent finds her true happiness in leaving it for the love of a devoted admirer.

Although political writers are usually excluded from treatment in literary history, an exception is made in favor of Emilio Castelar, whose eloquence as an orator and prominence as a statesman have made his name familiar throughout the world. He was born at Cadiz in 1832, and at the age of twenty-two was conspicuous in the Liberal party. He became professor of history in the University of Madrid. In 1866 he was arrested and condemned to death for participation in a revolutionary attempt, but escaped from Spain. Returning after the Revolution of 1868 he opposed the restoration of monarchy. After the resignation of King Amadeo Castelar was made president of the Spanish Republic, but being unable to suppress the Carlists resigned in 1874 and went abroad. Again he returned and was elected to the Cortes. He now declared that Spain insists on having monarchical government and he accepts that conclusion. Among his numerous works the most noted are "Democratic Ideas" (1858), "Parliamentary Speeches" (1871), "Old Rome and New Italy" (1873).

While the novel has been the most absorbing part of Spanish literature in the Nineteenth Century the drama has not been altogether neglected. In this field there has been the same struggle as in that of romance. Some playwrights adhered strictly to the forms of the old Spanish drama, others drew their inspiration from France. The former wrote in the style of Calderon, the latter in that of the younger Dumas. Zorrilla wrote in the former style, but his rivals seemed to be preferred. But in the contemporary period José Echegaray has been acknowledged as the most-vital force in the drama. He was born at Madrid in 1832, and became a civil engineer and professor of mathematics. He took part in the Revolution of 1868 and has thrice been a member of the cabinet. His first dramatic work was "The Check-Book" (1872), but his fame was established by the tragedy of "Madman or Saint ?" (1877). In this the hero finds himself unable to induce his friends to accept his view that every man is bound to render obedience to the moral law at whatever sacrifice. The dramatist also insists on the necessary punishment of sin but makes it overtake the innocent as well as the guilty, and in this shows his tendency to pessimism. He is at his best in the exhibition of passion. Several dramas of notable excellence followed, the grandest being. "The Great Galeoto" (1881) which exhibits the terrible results of evil speaking, even when no evil is intended. The genius of Echegaray is chiefly tragic, yet he has produced some lighter pieces, the best of which is "A Budding Critic."

With the genuine revival of the novel and the drama in truly national spirit there seems no reason to doubt that Spain has entered on a new literary era, which may be as fruitful as her Golden Age.

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