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Romanticism in Spain Essay

During  the romantic era‘ Spain enjoyed for perhaps the first time in her history a genuine European vogue. The theorizers of romanticism in Germany, England, and France—especially Germany—discovered in Spanish literature, as they imperfectly knew it—chiefly the Don Quixote, the ballads, and the theatre of Calderon—ammunition for their critical and anticlassical campaign, while the creative writers of these countries found in the land and its people, their history, legends and letters, a new and rich store of themes and settings, made as if to order in response to the demand of the moment for the picturesque and the passionate, the chivalresque and the medieval.

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But having little interest in Spain for herself nor (Mérimée excepted) any real knowledge of her language, history, or culture, they recreated a conventional, literary Spain according to their own needs, desires and imaginations, that ”romantic” Spain best typified perhaps in the Carmen of Mérimée and of Bizet, a conception which has persisted in the popular mind down to the present and against which Spaniards and HispanophiIeS—then and now—have reacted more or less violently and in vain. (And, may I add, not with complete justification, for creative artists are hardly to be censured for not being exact historians or archeologists.)

Furthermore, even the romantic caricature of Spain, to say nothing of the more sober and sounder vision of a few critics and travelers, brings out for the first time, to any considerable extent, those peculiar traits of Spanish culture and the Spanish temper which have increasingly come to be regarded (even among Spanish critics) as essentially romantic, or perhaps, with greater accuracy, as essentially unclassic: the co-existence and clash of extremes, the persistence of medieval and national themes and attitudes, the intense individualism and resistance to rules, schools, and all forms of purely human authority, the preponderance of the popular and the spontaneously creative over the aristocratic and the critical.

Nevertheless, the great creations of the Spanish spirit, both artistic and vital—in the interplay of these two forces lies the key to the creative genius of Spain—lack, because of their very vitality, one fundamental aspect of romanticism. The Spanish spirit and Spanish letters are individualistic, but not subjective; extrovert, not introvert. (Save in the best of Larra and Espronceda, in a few minor writers in the romantic period itself, and especially, sixty to seventy years later, in some out standing authors oi the “generation of 1898,” the one really romantic generation in Spanish literature.) The epic and the dramatic, especially the dramatic, predominate over the lyric, and form, or rather expression, over sentiment and feeling. It is not around the latter, but around action, even mental action—the ingenio so characteristic of the race—«that Spanish letters revolve.

The “tragic sense of life” is ever present, as Unamuno reminds us, but rarely in the form of WelIsc/zmerz or mal du iécle. The original Spanish Don Juan is completely extrovert, as is the rebellious Cid of the ballads. The romantic exaltation of Don Quixote as the rebellious dreamer, started in Germany and England and carried to its zenith by Unamuno as late as 1905 (in his Vida d: D. Quijote y Sancho), is a one-sided distortion, and has served to obscure, until quite recently, the essential genius of his creator.

It is not without significance, then, that in their recreations of Spain, the romantics in Germany, England, and France should emphasize and exaggerate the external rather than the internal. For this is precisely what occurs, although in diflerent tones and modes, in the writers of the Romantic period in Spain itself.

Literary romanticism comes late to Spain, later even than to Italy. In February of 1828 Mariano José de Larra, then not quite nineteen years of age, published as his first article of dramatic criticism a scathing denunciation of Ducange’s Trent: am nu la m’e d’un jaueur,2 one of the translated melodramas which, along with sentimental and spectacle plays (also in translation) had formed, despite the fulminations of the critics, an increasingly large part of the repertory of the Madrid stage ever since the turn of the century.‘ In this juvenile outburst Larra upbraids the French for having abandoned, and extols the Spaniard Moratín and his followers for continuing to uphold, those external rules of literary and dramatic art and propriety for the violation of which the Frenchman Boileau had condemned the great Spanish dramatists of the seventeenth century. And, taking Ducange’s play as a horrible example, Larra ridicules romanticism as a silly, ephemeral, and degenerate French fad.

Hostile and naive, not to say ignorant, as this article is in its conception of romanticism, it is nevertheless representative of the critical attitude prevailing at the time in Spain. It reveals the strong patriotic pride in the achievement of the Spanish neoclassicists and the equally strong anti-French feeling inherited from the eighteenth century and intensified by the War of Independence as vital forces in the critical opposition to romanticism. It also reveals how little the latter, either in precept or in practice, was understood or even known in Spain as late
as 1828. The faint breath of a native pre-romanticism (melancholy, a feeling for nature, and a passion for liberty) discernible in the poets of the eighteenth century had heen stifled by the declamatory ode on contemporary social and patriotic themes introduced by Quintana and furthered by the War of Independence.

The political upheavals—foreign invasion, civil strife, anarchy, and bloody repression—which had racked the country since 1808 had arrested, if not destroyed, that notable revival of learning and letters which had taken place in the last decades of the eighteenth century. Intellectual intercourse with the rest of Europe was largely cut off. As later during the romantic period (which coincides roughly with the first Carlist war (1833-69) and subsequent strife until the “pacification” of 1843—45) politics was the primary preoccupation with intellectuals and writers.

The debate over the neoclassic esthetic in its relation to Spanish literature, which since 1737 had raged intermittently for nearly a century, was largely stilled. Almost single-handed the great Hispanist Bohl von Faber,‘ inspired by Herder, Grimm, and the Schlegels, strove to focus attention on the ancient folk poetry and t exalt the drama of the seventeenth century as superior to the revered “rules.”‘ Although translations of English, German, and French preromantics (Young, “Ossian,” Goethe, Rousseau, Chateaubriand, and Lamartine) are seen and heard in the last years of the eighteenth and early decades of the nineteenth century, they had no great popularity (save possibly 1114210) and certainly little immediate influence.“ Only sporadic references to romanticism as such are found prior to 1818 ,7 and the first serious critical discussions, moderate and conciliatory, like those of the Italian Conciliatore, by which they were indeed influenced, are those of the Italian Monteggia and the Catalán López Soler, published in the short-lived El Europea (1823-24) oí Barcelona.a Yet the public had applauded for decades the type of play denounced by the youthful Larra and his contemporaries and predecessors, and had devoured the romantic novels of Chateaubriand and the pseudo-historical and sentimental fiction of Mme de Genlis, Mme Cottin, the Vicomte d’Arlincourt, and Miss Roche (to say nothing of the thrillers of Mrs Radcliffe)!

And from 1825 on, the novels of Walter Scott, and Cooper,  too, whose vogue in the rest of Europe was echoed in Spain, were almost immediately accepted by the critics and men of letters who were still indifferent or hostile to romanticism in general. As a consequence, romanticism made its initial appearance in Spain in its newest and least romantic form—the first of the many paradoxes to be encountered in our survey—in the historical novel in the manner of Walter Scott, initiated in 1830 by López Soler and continued almost immediately by other writers—among them Larra and Espronceda—with the deliberate purpose of enriching the national literature by adapting this new and widely acclaimed form to Spanish soil and the Spanish spirit, so congenial to historical and legendary themes and settings. But (again the paradox) the pseudoAarchaeological novel proved alien to the Spanish temper, precisely because of its antiquarianism, and dragged out a feeble existence in the thirties and forties. The vivid, living recreation of the national past took place, not in the novel, at least not until the historical novels of Pérez Galdós, but in the theatre and in narrative poetry. And here the opposition to romanticism had first to be overcome, at least in part.

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As seen in Larra’s review, there were deeper reasons for this opposition than a pardonable ignorance due to isolation and an understandable
scorn for the vulgar taste in fiction and in the theatre. The belated and limited, yet sound and solid, renaissance of culture in eighteenth-century Spain was in its literary aspects almost exclusively the work of two generations (symbolized by the Moratins, father and son) of writers and scholars imbued with the patriotic desire to reform and restore Spanish letters on the basis of the neoclassic precepts, to the failure to observe which they attributed the shortcomings of the national literature, particularly the theatre, of the seventeenth century and its subsequent decadence. And it was under the direct example and even guidance of these men (Jovellanos, Moratín the younger, Quintana, Lista, etc.) that the literary generations of the first half of the nineteenth century grew up.

Thus not only did neoclassicism flower late in Spain, but the prestige of its exponents, even more than of its precepts, was at its peak in the first three decades of the nineteenth century. This prestige was political as well as literary. The eighteenth-century reformation: had met with great opposition—not so much, again, on doctrinal as on patriotic grounds—which took the form of a \n‘gorous defense of the national drama and continuous satire of French culture and customs and of its supporters. But during and after the War of Independence the reforma dare: and their followers, with few exceptions, took the lead, not only in resisting the invader, but also in the liberal and constitutional movements of 1810—14 and 1820—23.

Imprisonment, exile, and even death was the portion of many of them in the reactions of 1814—20 and 1823—33. No wonder, then, that they and their disciples should oppose romanticism, as they imperfectly knew it, identified as it was, in their eyes, with the figure of Chateaubriand, the arch-enemy of liberal Spain. For them romanticism represented reaction, political and literary, the very opposíte of their own principles of progress and reform. Not until the political and literary revolution of 1830 in France, in which some of them were participants,” did their attitude change. And then only in part. Thus it was that the patriotic impulse, which had animated both the eighteenth-century neoclassicists and their opponents, although to opposite ends, worked before 1830 against the introduction of romanticism, just as after that date it was to further its conditional acceptance and its adaptation to national soil and literary traditions. First, and, on the whole unsuccessfully, in the novel, next in the drama, and finally in lyric, or rather narrative poetry.

In these latter genres the first important essays in romanticism take place outside of Spain, in Paris, after the revolution of 1830 and among the liberal and neoclassicist exiles gathered there. The most outstanding figure, literary and political, among them, Martinez de la Rosa, composed on the heels of his preceptist Poética (1827) and his pseudoSophoclean Edipo (1828)—a historical drama in French, Aben-Humeya, ou la réwlte de Mame: sou: Philippe II, played at the Porte-St. Martin in June of 1830. (This, by the way, is by no means the only instance of literary composition in French, or in English, by the Spanish emigrados.)“ In the same year Martinez de la Rosa published, also in Paris, his Conjuracidn de Venecia, the first Spanish historical drama with ex ternal romantic, or melodramatic, trimmings. This was not played in Madrid until 1834, after the death of Ferdinand VII in 1833 had given rise to the Carlist revolt, the return of the centígrados to aid the cause of Isabel II, and the elevation of Martinez de la Rosa to head the government. Yet by the year 1837 the romantic drama was firmly established, as a. part, although not the dominant one, of the theatrical repertory.

But only when purged of some of its ”excesses” and garbed in native dress, as initiated by El Trovadar (1836) and Los amantes de Tamel (1837), of two young and relatively unknown poets, Garcia Gutierrez and Hartzenbusch, respectively. The romantic drama in Spain, after 1837, perhaps its year of greatest vitality, represents a cross between the French drama ramantiquc and the Spanish comedia of the seventeenth century, but stressing the elements present in the latter: themes from national history and legend, freedom from the ”rules,” exuberance of rhetoric and varied versification—Lope and Calderon brought “up to date”!

In lyric poetry the course of events was slower, but much the same. The long narrative poem (El Mom Expásíla), published in 1834 in Paris by the former liberal exile and neoclassicist Duque de Rivas, had little direct influence until followed in 1840 by the author’s Rumance: hi:- Idricax, much more definitely modelled on the old ballads (romances). This turn was the one finally to triumph: one more distinctly historical and legendary in subjectvmatter, more directly Spanish and Catholic in spirit, more superficial and declamatory in expression. It was initiated by Zorrilla in his Poesías (1837—39) and sealed by the same poet’s Camas del Travadar (1841). The years 1840—41 also saw the appearance of numerous other volumes of the leyenda and ballad type.

In the meantime, however, the outstanding poet was the ex-revolutionary Espronceda, in whose meagre yet magnificent verses (not published in collected form until 1840) is to be found the almost perfect fusion of Spanish forms and themes with those of foreign inspiration (Byron, Hugo, Béranger). Espronceda died in 1842 and the field was left to the bard Zorrilla and lesser poets. For two decades and more the rhetorical reverberations of the national ballad, of Quintana, and of Victor Hugo—the variegated fountain heads of inspiration for the period—dominate the scene, to drown out the timid and tardy but genuinely romantic voices, the exquisitely simple and poignant verses, of Bécquer and Rosalia de Castro.

Doctrinaire romanticism gained little or no headway in Spain. El Artista, the organ of the small group sworn to advance the cause, a jeunesse dorée of young intellectuals and artists, had only a year (1835—36) of precarious existence, and the ill-advised attempt of the same group to convert the death and funeral of Larrainto a public glorification of  suicide met with crushing disapproval. In February of 1837, just nine years after his first review, Mariano José de Larra shot himself, in utter despair (despite his unparalleled success as a critic and satirist) at his country’s desperate plight and his own (to him) hopeless situation, a self-created victim of political persecution and of unrequited love. This genuine Wertherian gesture and the scandal of his funeral mark the turning point in the history of Spanish romanticism: the disappearance of the most profoundly romantic temperament of his times and the theatrical emergence, reciting verses at his very grave, of the youthful Zorrilla, whose poetry, both dramatic and narrative, is to strike the dominant note in the romanticism of the forties and beyond: the historical, the legendary, and the rhetorical.

Thus romanticism in Spain presents, in its main lines, like the land itself and the genius and culture of the race, a veritable panorama of paradox. T0 judge from the popularity of Spanish themes and settings among the romantics of Germany, England, and France, to judge from the apparently romantic qualties inherent in the great enterprises and creations of the Spanish spirit, it would seem that literary romanticism should flourish there as in few countries. Yet the contrary is rather the case. Until the eighteen sixties and after, the German romantics were at best mere names in the Peninsula. Of the English romantics only Byron and, especially, Scott had any influence, and this was by no means decisive. The ideas of the Cancilialore were echoed almost immediately and, although almost immediately forgotten, were unconsciously ful- filled in Spain perhaps more completely than in Italy. Indeed, the history of romanticism in Spain has more direct analogies, in the decisive interplay of literary and political factors, with the situation in Italy than even with that in France, although it is French romanticism alone that exercises any important literary influence. Yet even French romanticism made a late entry, was combated or, at best, comprehended but imperfectly, and had in the theatre only a brief moment, in the late thirties, of qualified success. Only in the forties and beyond are Hugo and Lamartinknever Vigny or Musset—definitely incorporated into the stream of Spanish poetry.

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At first opposed by intellectuals and men of letters in the name of patriotism, literary and political, romanticism of the French variety was, after the revolution of 1830, accepted (with reservations) and practiced (with modifications) by the very same group and for the same patriotic motives. But only because it had been seen—and after it had been made—to conform to the national temper and tradition. The dyed-in-the-wool romantic dramas of Hugo and Dumas and their Spanish counterparts— notably the Don Alvaro o Iafuersa del :ina (1835) of the Duque de Rivas —awakened more opposition than applause. Earlier attempts to acclimate a new genre, the historical novel, were on the whole disappointing, if not frankly unsuccessful.

Romantic lyric poetry gained no great toothold until after the revival of the romance or ballad. Thus romanticism, which was in its first Spanish phases largely an international, not to say cosmopolitan, manifestation—witness the activities of the emigratios in France and England—came, once it was established in Spain (in modified form, of course) and once the European vogue of Spanish themes and letters had been tardily appreciated—and speedily exaggerated—quickly to be regarded and practiced as a peculiarly national heritage, the direct descendant of the ballads and of the camedia of the Golden Age. Indeed, as early as 1837 Victor Hugo is accused (by Mesonero Romanos in his satiric sketch El ramanlicisma y lo: románticos) of having propagated, not the pure romanticism he absorbed in Spain as a boy, but a deliberately false and adulterated version!

But this Spanish brand of romanticism, incarnate in the figure of Zorrilla, is at best external and rhetorical. Divorced from contact with newer literary currents and with the realities of the times, it reflects only the husks, rarely the spirit, of the past. Its chief vehicle is, naturally enough, dramatic and narrative verse. Of true lyricism there is little. Characteristic romantic themes and attitudes—for instance, the feeling for nature—are few and limited. Significant works of thought and criticism are conspicuously absent. The outstanding prose genre is the artícula (later cuadra) de costumbres (humorous and satirical sketches of manners and customs), an eighteenth-century form in origin—it goes back, of course, to Addison and Stealth—and romantic only in its preoccupation, in the cuadra stage, with picturesque and popular scenes and types.” Only in the later articula: of Larra, those in which he distills his own satiric de< spair, identifying, like the true romantic he is, his own and his country’s plight, is the artículo romantic, romantic in feeling, but not in form or theme.

The genuine romantic personalities either disappear early (Larra, Es— pronceda) or are obscure or belated figures (Bécquer, Rosalia de Castro). Yet their product, small as it is, is not without distinction. Spanish literature of the romantic period can boast no Byron, Shelley, Wordsworth, or Keats, no Goethe, Schiller, or Heine, no Leopardi, not even a Hugo or a Vigny, yet it does have, in Espronceda and Bécquer, two poets of genuine accent and expression, and in Larra a profoundly romantic personality, as well as a prose artist of the first rank.

Taken as a whole, Spanish letters of the romantic period form the first considerable body of literature of respectable stature since the golden days of Lope and Cervantes. But in Spain as elsewhere, literary productivity is not wholly, nor even predominantly, in the romantic mode.

Introduced by a generation steeped in the liberal and neoclassical traditions, romantic drama and poetry were continued by a younger group brought up in the same ideals and who consequently alternated their romantic compositions with the literary types and practices of the preceding era. Although these latter actually predominate from the quantitative standpoint, the period still deserves the label ”romantic” (or “pseudo-romantic”) because the major literary achievements were in that mode. The romantic period in Spain, then, represents no complete rejection, save for a brief moment and then only in a few extreme cases, of neoclassical principles and personages, but rather a compromise with them, the very compromise, although in reverse order, between national tradition and universal standards advocated since the end of the eighteenth century. In literature, as in politics, there came to reign, after a short flurry of revolt even less fundamental in literature than in politics, a sort ofjuslo medio (justa milieu). The two literary traditions, the age of Cervantes and Lope and that of Jovellanos and Moratín, were both respected, but with emphasis increasingly on the former.

Although some aspects of romanticism (notably literary patriotism and the reaction against the “rules”) go far back into the eighteenth century, it does not enter Spain as a conscious literary force until 1830. Yet by 1840 many of its externals have been assimilated and continue to flourish, in increasingly modified form, in the poetry and the theatre of the entire second half of the nineteenth century. But in the group known as the “generation of ’98” (in Whom the Silver Age of Spanish literature, begun in the novel by Galdós and his contemporaries, is carried to fruition in poetry, drama, and the essay as well) are to be found some of the most genuinely romantic personalities and attitudes in Spanish letters.

Their romanticism is vital and functional, not formal or rhetorical. It lies at the root of their attitude toward life and of letters, and is manifest in that blend of personal and national introspection, that fusion of the intellectual and the passionate, of the creative and the critical, whichconstitutes the peculiarhall-mark of their geniusas individuals and as a generation. And, inspired both by contemporary European currents and fundamental national realities, they, especially the most profoundly romantic among them—Unamuno, Baroja, Azorfn—delibeately repudiate the literary romanticism of the nineteenth century with its stress on the verbal, the external and the superficially historical, excepting only Lana (in whom they saw a forerunner), Rosalia de Castro, and, with reservations, Espronceda and Bécquer.

Fundamental, then, to the understanding of romanticism in Spain, as elsewhere, is the distinction between the external and the internal between ”romantic” and “romanticistf’ Fundamental too, from the historical rather than the esthetic angle, is the chronological differential, the “time lag” of roughly fifty years or more which, save for occasional moments and individuals, has characterized, from the eighteenth century on, Spanish history and culture with respect to those of England and France.

Corollary to this is the patriotic preoccupation which, in one form or other, in one direction or other, permeates the warp and woof of modern Spanish intellectual activity. The co-existence of the past and the present so peculiar to Spain, the struggle between the weight of the past and the pressure of the present—the tragic dilemma lying at the core of modern Spanish history—is reflected throughout modern Spanish letters and nowhere more clearly than in the nature and course of romanticism in Spain.

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Romanticism in Spain Essay
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During  the romantic era‘ Spain enjoyed for perhaps the first time in her history a genuine European vogue. The theorizers of romanticism in Germany, England, and France—especially Germany—discovered in Spanish literature, as they imperfectly knew it—chiefly the Don Quixote, the ballads, and the theatre of Calderon—ammunition for their critical and anticlassical campaign, while the creative writers of these countries found in the land and its people, t

2018-02-24 09:36:10
Romanticism in Spain Essay
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