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Translated from the French of SISMONDI;
By JOHN S. SMITH, Esq.
THE number of Spanish writers is very considerable, and their fertility is astonishing. The Spaniards have alone, for example, more theatrical pieces than all other nations together; and it would not be right to form an opinion of them from specimens selected at hazard; the less so, as the very peculiar taste of this nation augments the difficulty of knowing it well. The literature with which we have been occupied, and that which we reserve for another time, are European; the Spanish is oriental. Its genius, its pomp, and the end which it has in view, belong to another sphere of ideas, to another world. We must enter completely into its spirit before we pretend to judge it; and nothing would be more unjust than to measure by our poetry, which the Spaniards do not know or do not esteem, works composed under a system altogether different from ours.
On the other hand, Spanish literature promises a remuneration proportionate to the labour which it exacts. This brave and chivalric nation, whose pride and dignity have become proverbial, is pourtrayed in its literature; and we shall derive pleasure from finding in it, features which correspond with the part played by the Spaniards in Europe. The same people who set a barrier to the invasion of the Saracens, who maintained during five centuries, their political and religious liberty, who, when they lost both under Charles V. and his successors, seemed desirous of burying Europe and the New World, under the ruins of their constitution, have also manifested in their literature, their strength and richness of imagination, their nobleness and elevation of character. We perceive in their first poetry the heroism of their ancient knights; we recognize the magnificence of the court of Charles V. in the poets of the happiest period of his reign; then the same men who conducted the armies from victory to victory, held also the first rank in letters. Even in the universal decline, we still remark the Spanish grandeur; the poets of the last age were crushed under the weight of their own riches, and sunk by the efforts they made to surpass all the others and even themselves. * *
At the subversion of the West in the reign of Honorius, Spain was invaded, about the year 409, by the Suevi, the Alani, the Vandals, and Visigoths. This country, which, during almost six centuries, had been subjected to the Romans, and which had completely
adopted their language and civilization, experienced from that time, by the mixture of the conquerors with the vanquished, that revolution of morals, opinions, military spirit, and language, which we have already observed in the other provinces of the empire, and which was destined to give birth to the Romanesque nations. Among the conquerors the Visigoths were the most numerous, and this was a happiness for Spain, since, of all the people of the North, the Goths, as well Eastern as Western, were by much the most enlightened, the most just, and those who extended the best protection to the van. quished people, whilst they established the wisest legislation over their conquests. The Alani were brought into subjection by the Visigoths, ten years after their entry into Spain: ten years later, the Vandals passed over to Africa to found there a warlike monarchy destined to revenge Carthage and to sack Rome. In fine, the Suevi who still preserved their independence during a century and a half, were in their turn subjected in 585. The dominion of the Visigoths thus stretched over all Spain, except some maritime cities, which remained in the power of the Greeks of Constantinople, who, from that time, acquired by their commerce great riches, and a large population. The ancient Roman subjects, raised by the Visigoths to a level with their conquerors, formed by a similar education, called to the same employments, and professing the same religion, were soon entirely confounded with them. When, in 710, Spain was in. vaded by the Mussulmen, all the Christians who inhabited it, formed but one people.
The Spaniards do not doubt but that their language was formed during the three hundred years of the dominion of the Visigoths. It is evidently a mixture of the German with the Latin, and of a contraction of the latter. It was, it is true, enriched afterwards by the Arabian with a great number of words, which, in the midst of a Romanesque tongue, preserve a character altogether foreign. The Ara. bian without doubt, influenced also the pronunciation, but changed not the genius of the language. Although the Spanish and Italian have a common origin, yet there is a marked difference between them; the syllables lopped off in the contraction of words and those retained are not the same; so that words growing out of the same Latin origin have no longer any resemblance. The Spanish more sonorous, more accentuated, more aspirated, has something more dignified, more firm and more imposing; on the other hand, this language being less improved by philosophers and orators, than the Italian, has less pliancy and less precision; in its grandeur it is not always clear, and its pomp is not exempt from bombast. In spite of these variances, the two languages can be recognized as sisters, and the transit from one to the other is easy.
Civil liberty was as perfect in Spain as any political constitution will admit; the nation seemed to have given itself kings for the purpose of better circumscribing the authority which it was compelled to yield. It was desirous of finding in them, good commanders, judges of the field of honour, and models of a gallant noblesse; but its eyes were ever opened to the extension which these kings might give to their prerogative; and in consequence judges were placed over them in ordinary times;--the legal forms of resistance to the
abuse of power were regulated beforehand, and in the calm of peace; all orders were admitted to an equal representation in the diet, and every Spaniard was imbued with the sentiment of the dignity of the citizen, and of the nobleness of the Visigoth blood. That court, that noblesse and that equality of rank, have maintained in the habits, language, and literature of the Spaniards, an elegance, a tone of good society, a courtly air, an aristocracy of spirit, which the Italians lost very early, because their liberty was altogether vulgar.
A profound sentiment of political liberty cannot admit of religious servitude; thus the Spaniards preserved, until the reign of Charles V. an entire independence on that Roman church, of which they became the most timid slaves, so soon as their political constitution was overturned. This religious independence of the Spaniards has Dever been remarked, because the writers of the nation would now blush at it, and would rather endeavour to conceal it, whilst those of all other people judge of the whole Spanish history by the epoch when they were in contact with them.
The Spaniards engaged in every walk of literature, epic and lyric poetry, allegory, history, philosophy, and erudition. They advanced by themselves opening a road adapted to their own taste, and without commingling with foreigners; but they advanced slowly, and until the period when Charles V. reunited under his empire the rich provinces of Italy to Castile, they profited but little of the progress of mind in the other parts of Europe. On the other hand, they boasted of what they had accomplished by themselves; they held in the highest estimation, every thing that they considered national, and thus they preserved in their poetry, a stronger and more original colouring. It was thus that dramatic poetry originated with them, previous to their intercourse with other nations, and being formed on the ancient Castilian taste, according to the morals, the habits, even the caprices of the people for whom it was destined,--it was less regular than that of other nations, much less learned, and much less agreeable to the ingenious analysis which the Greek philosophers had made of the poetic art; but it was much more fitted to excite the Spaniards, more in harmony with their opinions and customs, and more intimately connected with their national pride; in fact, neither the satire of other nations, the criticisms of their own literati, the prizes of their academies, nor the favour of their princes, could ever reclaim them to the system which at this day prevails in the rest of Europe
This same nation which had a long time wasted its strength against itself; which had employed four hundred years of combats, in driving step by step from their homes, its inost industrious inhabitants; which had, at the same time, shed torrents of blood in propping by turns, the sovereigns of Castile and of Aragon, of Navarre and of Portugal, or in restraining them within the limits of their prerogative, and in raising above the throne, the rights of the grandees and people;--this nation, a stranger to Europe, and taking no part in its policy, united herself all at once under a single chief, at the commencement of the sixteenth century. She then turned against foreigners the prodigious means which had, until then, been confined within her own bosom;-she shook, and threatened to overturn the liberty of all Europe;- she lost her own without ever remarking it, VOL. II.
in the midst of her victories;—her character was entirely changed, and at the moment when this phenomenon occupied and alarmed all Europe, her literature, shone forth in its greatest brilliancy.
The power of Spain had already received, in the latter years of the fifteenth century, an increase sufficient to endanger the equilibrium of Europe. Alphonso V. of Aragon, after having conquered the kingdom of Naples, had, it is true, left it to his natural son, and Fer. dinand the catholic recovered this kingdom by a signal perfidy, only in 1504. But Sicily, Sardinia, and the Balearian islands were already united to the crown of Aragon, and the marriage of Ferdinand with the queen of Castile, without confounding the two monarchies, gave this ambitious prince the disposal of the armies of all Spain, which he began very soon to use in Italy. The united armies of Ferdinand and Isabella wrested from the Moors the kingdom of Grenada, in 1492. The same year, Christopher Columbus discovered for the crown of Spain, those countries so extensive, so rich, so happily situated, where the Spaniards have found a new home, and whence they, for a long time, drew the treasure by means of which they flattered themselves they would subdue the world.
In fine, in 1512, Ferdinand, as regent of Castile, conquered Navarre; and all that vast peninsula, except Portugal, was subjected to the same dominion. When, in 1516, Charles V. united to this great monarchy the rich and industrious provinces of the Low Countries, his patrimonial inheritance, and in 1519, the imperial authority with the succession of Maximilian in Austria, Hungary, and Bohemia-this power so new in Europe, so disproportionate to all those which had grown up since Charlemagne, was well fitted to turn the head of a youthful sovereign, and to inspire him with the project of founding a universal monarchy. The lustre of the victories which Charles V. gained, in pursuing this vast design, the respect or fear with which he inspired all the nations of Europe, the glory of the Spanish arms, which he conducted in triumph to Italy, France, Germany, to countries where the Castilian standards had never penetrated, were equally adapted to dazzle the nation and to inspire her with that enthusiasm for him whom she regarded as her hero, which rendered her inaltentive to the revolution in her laws and constitution.
But this ambitious dream of the king and people was alike injurious to both. Charles V. in the midst of his victories, and in spite of the extent of his states, was proportionally, both weaker and poorer than Ferdinand and Isabella his immediate predecessors had been. He was arrested in every one of his enterprizes, and deprived of the fruit which he had a right to expect from them, by the want of soldiers and money, wants which his predecessors never experienced. The contributions of Italy, Spain, Flanders, and Germany, joined to the treasures of the New World, did not prevent his troops being constantly disbanded for the want of pay; the immense and continual levies which he made in all the states in subjection to him, did not secure him a superiority over his enemies in the open field; and however great were the acquisitions which he legally made by inheritance or by forfeiture * to the empire, he never added one pro
* Par incameration à l'Empire.
vince to his states by the right of conquest, but was, on the contrary, alarmed forced to contract his hereditary frontiers on the side of the Turks. ich The Spanish nation, the only one of those in subjection to him
which he could preserve from foreign invasion, suffered itself as equilies early as the minority of Charles V. to be stripped of a part of its querei privileges, by cardinal Ximenes. Intoxicated with the victories 10, and of its king, it every day abandoned some new right. Those gallant prids, ar knights who had always fought for the interests of their country tre alert alone, and waged war when and how they pleased, made it a point of
honour to become the most devoted and obedient soldiers. Fighting incessantly for quarrels of which they knew nothing and in which they
had no interest, they resolved all their duties into that of a severe disPiet cipline. In the midst of nations whose language they did not under
stand, and all of whom they held in equal contempt, they signalized themselves by an inflexible severity and a pitiless cruelty. The first
of European soldiers, they were nothing but soldiers. Those Spanish dat bands, those terrible battalions of infantry, presented a front of iron
to their enemies, a heart of steel to the unfortunate; it was these whom the prince always selected for a cruel enterprize, very certain that no sympathy would stay them in the execution of the most ri
gorous orders. They showed themselves ferocious in the wars elasting against the protestants of Germany; ferocious against the catholics,
in the pillage of Rome. At the same period, the soldiers of Cortes otc and Pizarro manifested a cruelty in the New World which at this per epoch was the opprobrium of Castilians, and of which, however, no
trait had been remarked in all the history of Spain, prior to the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella. Cruelty seemed to have become a characteristic of the Spanish soldier, duplicity and Machiavelism that of the chiefs. The most illustrious men of this period are soiled by deeds of perfidy which cannot be paralleled. The great captain Gonsalvo of Cordova, the marquis of Pescairo, Alphonso d'Avalos, Antonio de Lera, and the most illustrious Castilians, made the breach of faith and the most sacred oaths, a sport; so many accusations of poisonings and assassinations are preferred against them, that even in suspending our belief on each of them, yet does their collected force imprint a deep stain on the memory of these pretended great
At the same time, the clergy had gained in power what morals had lost in efficacy; the Inquisition was established in Castile in 1478, by the united authority of Ferdinand and Isabella; it was immediately invested with extraordinary powers for the repression of the Moors, against whom, however, it had not been found necessary to employ such rigour even in the time of their greatness, and who had long ceased to be an object of fear. But l'erdinand, who was the most deceitful of kings, although his zeal for the Inquisition had gained him the name of catholic, took, in fact, no interest in religion. He had shown this warmth in favour of the Inquisition, because he regarded it as a powerful political engine with which he could intimidate the grandees and reduce the people to dependence. It required nearly a generation of men to accustom the Spaniard to the sanguinary proceedings of this tribunal, and to make fanatics of the people. This work of an infernal policy was scarcely accomplished when Charles V. began to reign. The frightful spectacle of the autos da fé, was