CHAPTER XIV. THE SIXTEENTH AND SEVENTEENTH CENTURIES: SPAIN AND PORTUGAL
Poets: Quevedo, Gongora, Lope de Vega, Ercilla, Calderon, Rojas, etc. Prose Writers: Montemayor, Cervantes, etc. Portugal: De Camoens, etc. The Stage.
POETRY: QUEVERO; GONGORA.—The sixteenth century and the first half at least of the seventeenth century were the golden age of both Spanish and Portuguese literature. In poetry Quevedo is the first to be noticed, and he is also notable in prose. Born at Madrid, but compelled by the consequences of his youthful follies to take refuge in Sicily, then back in Spain and either at the height of his fortune near the Duke of Olivares or else pursued, imprisoned, and tortured by that minister, he possessed facility and force which were alike extraordinary. His poems, which are most satirical, revealed a glow and a freshness that were very remarkable.
Gongora, like Lyly in England and Marini in Italy, enjoyed the fame of founding a bad school. It was Gongorism: that is, the art of writing not to make oneself read, which could only suit lawyers, orators, critics, and scientists, but the art of writing to cause one's idea only to be discovered after many efforts, or even so as to prevent its being discovered at all. Gongorism belongs to every epoch, and in each epoch is the means of scaring away the crowd, of obtaining a small band of enthusiastic admirers, and of being able to scorn the suffrage of the multitude. Gongora, both in Spain and in France, found devoted admirers and imitators.
LOPE DE VEGA.—Lope de Vega was one of the greatest of the world's poets, although he was intelligible. Prodigiously fertile, which is not necessarily a sign of mediocrity, he published some romances in prose ( Dorothea Arcadia), some novels, epic or historic poems (Circe, Shepherds of Bethlehem, Jerusalem Conquered, The Beauty of Angelica, The Pilgrim in his Land, The White Rose, The Tragic Crown, of which Mary Stuart is the heroine, The Laurel of Apollo, etc.), burlesque and satirical poems, and dramatic poems the number of which exceed eighteen hundred. In this mass of production may be discerned comedies of manners, comedies of intrigue, pastorals, historical comedies (with characters whose names are known in history), classical and religious tragedies, mythological, philosophical, and hagiological comedies. Despite these distinctions, which are useful as a guide in this throng, all the dramatic work of Lope de Vega is that of imagination which seems to owe little to practical observation and is valuable through happy invention, dexterous composition, and the charming fertility and variety of ideas in the details. The dramatic work of Lope de Vega (as yet incompletely published and which probably never will be published in its entirety) was a vast mine wherein quarried not only all the dramatic authors but all the romancists and novelists of Europe. This prodigious producer, who wrote millions of verses, is the Homer of Spain and more fertile than Homer, whilst also a Homer as to whose existence there is no doubt.
ERCILLA.—Alonso de Ercilla created a peculiar species, that of memorialist epic poems. He was a man concerned in important events, who took daily notes and subsequently, or even concurrently, put them into verse. Thus Ercilla made his Araucana: that is, the poem of the expedition against the Araucanians in Chili, or rather he thus wrote the first (and best) of the three parts; later, desirous of rising to epic heights, he had resort to the contrivances and conventional traditional ornaments of this type of work and became dull, without entirely losing all his skill. “This poem is more savage than the nations which form its theme,” said Voltaire in a pretty phrase which was somewhat hyperbolical. The Araucana is agreeably savage in its first part without being ferocious and fastidiously civilised in the sequels without being contemptible.
MENDOZA.—Hurtado de Mendoza must be regarded—that proud, gloomy, bellicose and haughty minister of Charles V—because he was the earliest of the picaresque romancists. The picaresque method consisted in delineating the habits of outcasts, bohemians, spongers, swindlers, and vagrants. It lasted for about three quarters of a century. To this class belonged Guzmar of Alfargue, by Mateo Aleman;Marco of Obregon, by Espinel; The Devil on Two Sticks, by Guevara; and somewhat, in France, the Gil Bias of Le Sage. Now the prototype of all these was The Lazarillo of Tormes, by Hurtado de Mendoza.
GUEVARA.—A moment's heed must be paid to the amiable Antonio de Guevara, an insinuating moralist whose Familiar Letters and Dial of Princes, though rather affectedly grave, contain interesting passages which commend the author to readers. He is more particularly interesting to Frenchmen because it was from him La Fontaine borrowed his Countrymen of the Danube, attributing it to Marcus Aurelius (which led to much confusion), because the principal personage in The Dial of Princes is one Marcus Aurelius, who is discreetly intended for Charles V. In spite of what Taine wrote, though his criticisms in detail were accurate, La Fontaine followed pretty closely the fine and highly original wording of Guevara.
THE ROMANCE.—The Spanish romance was at its zenith in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It had a legion of authors, but here the principal only can be mentioned. Montemayor, who lived at the close of the sixteenth century and led an adventurous existence, wrote the Diana in Love, which became celebrated in every country under the title of “Diana of Montemayor.” It is a mythological, bucolic, and magical romance, entirely lacking in order, being wholly fantastical, sometimes cruelly dull, sometimes graceful, affecting, seductive, and pathetic, always ridiculously romantic. Its vogue was considerable in Spain, France, and Italy. The Astrea of Honore d'Urfe proceeds in part from it, but is more sensible and more restrained.
QUEVEDO.—Here Quevedo is again found, now as prose writer and in this no worse than as poet. He was prolific in romances or satirical fantasies, in social reveries wherein contemporary society is not spared and Juvenal is often suggested. Finally, he put forth all his powers, which were considerable, in his great romance, Don Pablo of Segovia, which, twenty years ago, would have been called naturalist. Quevedo obviously was an observer, possessed psychological penetration or, at least, the wisdom of the moralist; but above all, his imagination was curiously original, he invented, on an apparently true foundation, adventures which were almost probable and were diverting, burlesque, or possessed a bitter flavour. His was one of the most original brains in Spain, which has abounded in mental originalities.
CERVANTES.—Montesquieu has said of the Spaniards: “They have only one good book, the one which mocks at all the others.” Nothing could be more witty nor more unjust; but it is true that the greatest Spanish book is that in which the author does mock at many other Spanish books. Cervantes wrote his Don Quixote to ridicule the romances of chivalry which in his land were a craze among the townsfolk and smaller aristocratic landowners, but he wrote in no spirit of animosity and even reserved for his comic hero, that is, for his victim, a discreet sympathy which he made his reader share. A hero of chivalry himself, warrior with indomitable courage, thrice wounded at the battle of Lepanto, where he lost an arm, seven years in captivity in Algiers, on his return to Spain he became involved in adventures which again consigned him to prison before he at length attained success, if not fortune, with Don Quixote. Don Quixote is a realistic romance traversed by a frenzied idealist: here are the manners of the populace, of innkeepers, muleteers, galley-slaves, monks, petty traders, peasants, and amid them passes a man who views the entire world as a romance and who believes he finds romance at every turn of his road. This perpetual contrast is, first, effective and supremely artistic in itself, then is of a reality superior to that of any realism, since it is the complete life of humanity which is thus painted and penetrated to its very foundations and shown in all its aspects. There are two portions to this romance, and they are constantly near each other and, as it were, interlaced; namely, the episodes and the conversations. The episodes, comic incidents, humorous or sentimental adventures are of infinite variety and display incredible imagination; the conversations between Don Quixote and his faithful Sancho represent the two tendencies of the human mind to recognise on the one side, the goodness, generosity, devotion, the spirit of sacrifice, and the illusions; on the other side, common sense, the sense of reality, the sense of the just mean and, as it were, the proverbial reason, without malice or bitterness. This masterpiece is perhaps the one for which would have had to be invented the epithet of inexhaustible.
Apart from his immortal romance, Cervantes wrote novels, romances, sonnets, and also tried the drama, at which he did not succeed. The whole world, literally, was infatuated with Don Quixote, and, despite all changes of taste, it has never ceased to excite the admiration of all who read.
THE DRAMA: FERDINAND DE ROJAS.—The drama, even apart from Lope de Vega, of whom we have written, was most brilliant in Spain during these two centuries. The Spanish stage was very characteristic, very original among all drama in that, more than the ancient drama, more than in the plays of Shakespeare himself, it was essentially lyrical, or, to express the fact more clearly, it was based on a continual mixture of the lyric and the dramatic; also it nearly always laid stress on the sentiment and the susceptibility of honour, “the point of honour,” as it was called, and upon its laws, which were severe, tyrannical, and even cruel. These two principal characteristics gave it a distinct aspect differing from all the other European theatres. Without going back to the confused origins and without expressing much interest in the Spanish drama until the religious dramas of the autos sacramentales(which continued their career until the seventeenth century), it is necessary, first, to note, at the close of the fifteenth century, the celebrated Celestine of Ferdinand de Rojas, a spirited work, unmeasured, enormous, unequal, at times profoundly licentious, at times attaining a great height of moral exaltation, and also at times farcical and at others deeply pathetic. Celestine was translated several times in various languages, and especially in Italy and France was as much appreciated as in Spain.
CALDERON.—In the seventeenth century (after Lope de Vega) came Calderon. Almost as prolific as Lope, author of at least two hundred plays, some authorities say a thousand, Calderon was first prodigiously inventive, then he was dogmatic, moralising, almost a preacher. Whether in his religious plays, in his love dramas, in his cap and sword tragedies, even in his comedies and highly complicated intrigues, the great sentiments of the Spanish soul—honour, faith, the inviolability of the oath, loyalty, fidelity, the spirit of great adventures—broaden, animate and elevate the whole work. With Calderon the titles are always indicative of the subject. His most celebrated plays are: In this Life All Is Truth and Falsehood, Life is a Dream, The Devotion to the Cross, The Lady before All, The Mayor of Zamalea, Love after Death, The Physician of his Own Honour.
ALARCON.—Alarcon comes nearer to us owing to his regular and almost classic compositions. Nevertheless he was a man of imagination and humour with an adequate dramatic force. His tragedies must be mentioned: What Is Worth Much Costs Much, Cruelty through Honour, The Master of Stars; his comedies, The Examination of Husbands, and that charming The Truth Suspected, from which Corneille derived The Liar.
TIRSO DE MOLINA.—Tirso de Molina was another prodigy of dramatic literature, and his fellow-countrymen assert that he wrote three hundred dramas, of which sixty-five are in existence. All Spanish dramatists were unequal, he more especially; he passed from grossness to sublimity with surprising facility and ease. He particularly delighted in ingeniously complicated intrigue, in surprises, and in unexpected theatrical touches. Yet The Condemned in Doubt is a sort of moral epopee, adapted to the stage, possessing real beauty and not without depth. His most celebrated drama, in so far as it has aroused direct or indirect imitations, and owing to the type he was the first to suggest, was The Jester of Seville: that is, Don Juan. All European literatures, utilising Don Juan, became tributaries to Tirso de Molina.
FRANCIS DE ROJAS; CASTRO; DIAMANTE.—Francis de Rojas, who must not be confused with Ferdinand de Rojas, author of Celestine, though possessing less spirit than his predecessors, is nevertheless a distinguished dramatic poet. The French of the seventeenth century freely pilfered from him. Thomas Corneille borrowed a goodly portion of his Bertrand de Cigarral, Scarron a large part of his Jodelet, Le Sage an episode in Gil Blas. If only for their connection with the French drama, William de Castro and Diamante must be noticed. William de Castro wrote a play, The Exploits of the Cid in Youth, which Corneille knew and which he imitated in his celebrated tragedy, adding incomparable beauty. Diamante in his turn imitated Corneille very closely in The Son who Avenges his Father. Voltaire, mistaken in dates, believed Corneille had imitated Diamante.
PORTUGUESE WRITERS.—In Portugal the sixteenth century was the golden age. Poets, dramatists, historians, and moralists were extremely numerous; several possessed genius and many displayed great talent. Among lyrical poets were Bernardin Ribeiro, Christoval Falcam, Diogo Bernardes, Andrade Caminha, Alvarez do Oriente, Rodriguez Lobo. Ribeiro wrote eclogues half in narrative or dialogue, half lyrical. He also produced a romance intersected with tales (Le Sage in his Gil Blas thus wrote, as is known, and in this only imitated the Spaniards), entitled The Innocent Girl, which often evinces great refinement.
Christoval Falcam was also bucolic, but his eclogues often ran to nine hundred verses. He also wrote Voltas, which are lyric poems suitable for setting to music. Diogo Bernardes also wrote eclogues and letters collected under the title of the Lyma. The Lyma is a river. To Bernardes the Lyma was what the Lignon was to D'Urfe in his Astrea.
Caminha, a court poet decidedly analogous to the French Saint-Gelais, possessed dexterity and happy phraseology. Eclogues, elegiacs, epitaphs, and epistles were the ordinary occupations of his muse.
Alvarez do Oriente has left a great romanesque work, a medley of prose and verse entitled Portugal Transformed (Lusitania transformanda), which is extremely picturesque apart from its idylls and lyrical poems.
Lobo was highly prolific. He was author of pastoral romances, medleys of verse and prose (The Strange Shepherd, The Spring, Disenchantment), a great epic poem (The Court at the Village ), in prose conversations on moral and literary questions which have remained classic in Portugal, as well as romances and eclogues.
EPIC POETS.—The most notable epic poets were Corte-Real, Manzinho, Pereira de Castro, Francisco de Saa e Menezes, Dona de la Lacerda, and, finally, the great Camoens. Corte-Real, a writer of the highest talent, was author of an epic which we would style a romance in verse, although founded on fact, upon The Shipwreck of Sepulveda and her husband Lianor. The varied and picturesque narrative is often pathetic. It would be more so, to us at least, were it not for the incessant intervention of pagan deities.
Francisco de Saa e Menezes sang of the great Albuquerque and of Malaca Conquered. He mingled amorous and romantic tales with narratives and descriptions of battles. He possessed the sense of local colour and brilliant imagination; he has been accused of undue negligence with regard to correction.
Dona de la Lacerda, professor of Latin literature to the children of Philip III, although born at Porto, wrote nearly always in Spanish. The Spain Delivered (from the Moors), an epic poem, is her chief work; she also composed comedies and various poems in Spanish. On rare occasions she wrote in Portuguese prose.
CAMOENS.—The glory of these sound poets is effaced by that of Camoens. Exiled in early youth for a reason analogous to the one which occasioned the banishment of Ovid, a soldier who lost an eye at Ceuta, wandering in India, shipwrecked and, according to tradition, only saving his poem which he held in one hand whilst swimming with the other, he returned to Portugal after sixteen years of exile, assisting at the struggles, decline, and subjection of his country, dying (1579) at the moment when for a time Portugal ceased to have a political existence. He wrote The Lusiad (that is the Portuguese), which was the history of Vasco da Gama and of his expedition to India. The description of Africa, the Cape of Tempests (the Cape of Good Hope), with the giant Adamaston opposing the passage, and the description of India were the foundation of the narrative. Episodes narrated by individuals, as in Virgil and as in the Spanish romance, formed an internal supplement, and thus was narrated almost all the history of Portugal, and so it came to pass that the love of Inez de Castro and of Don Pedro formed part of the story of Vasco da Gama. Camoens was a powerful narrator, a magnificent orator in verse, and, above all, a very great painter. He evinced curious taste, even as compared with his contemporaries, such as the continual commingling of mythological divinities with Christian truths: for instance, a prayer addressed by Vasco to Jesus Christ was granted by Venus. It may also be observed that the poem lacked unity and was only a succession of poems. But, as Voltaire said, “The art of relating details, by the pleasure it affords, can make up for all the rest; and that proves the work to be full of great beauties, since for two hundred years it has formed the delight of a clever race who must be well aware of its faults.”
DRAMATISTS.—The principal Portuguese dramatists were Saa de Miranda, Antonio Ferreira, Gil Vicente. Saa de Miranda was a philosophical poet or, to express it more correctly, a poet with ideas; he broke with the eternal idylls, eclogues, bucolics, and pastorals of his predecessors without declining to furnish excellent examples, but more often aiming elsewhere and higher. He also reformed the versification, introducing metres employed in other languages, but hitherto unused in his tongue. He wrote odes, epistles after the manner of Horace, sonnets, lyric poems in Latin, and epic compositions. In all this portion of his work he may be compared to Ronsard. Finally, he wrote two comedies in prose—The Strangers and The Villalpandios (the Villalpandios are Spanish soldiers, who have a recognised position in comedy). His mind was one of the most elevated and best stored with classic literature that Portugal ever produced.
FERREIRA.—Ferreira, who wrote lyric poems, elegiac poems, and especially epistles, by which he gained for himself the name of the Portuguese Horace, was more particularly a dramatist. He createdFarcas, which must not be regarded as farces, but as dramatic poems in which the profane and religious are interwoven; he wrote The Bristo, a popular comedy; The Jealous One, which was perhaps the earliest comedy of character ever produced in Europe, and finally, a tragedy, Inez de Castro, the national tragedy, a tragedy so orthodox and regular in form that the author felt bound to introduce a chorus in the classic manner; it is charged with pathos and handled with much art.
GIL VICENTE.—Gil Vicente, a prolific poet who wrote forty-two dramatic pieces, two thirds in Spanish and the rest in Portuguese, touched every branch of theatrical literature; he produced religious plays (autos), tragedies, romantic dramas, comedies, and farces. His chief works are The Sibyl Cassandra, The Widow, Amadis de Gaule, The Temple of Apollo, The Boat of Hell. His comedies possess a vivacity that is Italian rather than Portuguese. Tradition has it that Erasmus learnt Portuguese for the sole purpose of reading the comedies of Gil Vicente.