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Chapter II


Eighteenth-Century Spanish Poetry

The great Spanish authors of the seventeenth century developed a literature which, while often profoundly moral in its content, as in the cases of Quevedo and Calderón, tended toward elaboration, refinement, and daring of form. The poet Góngora had already banished social function from his work and wholly dedicated himself, in his most characteristic manner, to the production of aesthetic magnificence. The followers of these Baroque masters imitated and occasionally exaggerated the salient notes of their models, so that in the Spanish poetry of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries we find, perhaps, a decrease of inventiveness and originality.

The developing Enlightenment, the mentality which was to dominate the latter half of the eighteenth century, saw the Baroque through the prism of its own rationalism. It prized clarity in thought and expression more than it did inventiveness, and it consequently rejected a poetic school that sought uniqueness and originality even at the expense of intelligibility. Along with rationalism, a utilitarian bent characterized the mind of the times. In Jovellanos' writings we find repeated insistence on the need for useful studies, useful public works, useful social classes. Art and literature also had their own usefulness, which was conceived in the terms handed down from the Classical-Renaissance tradition: the purpose of literature is to instruct as well as to give pleasure, and the poet must therefore join the useful to the sweet (utile dulci). The Baroque poets; however, did not meet the new age's standards either in terms of rational clarity or in those of usefulness and clear didactic purpose. As so often happens, therefore, the new period reacted against the old. In Spain, this reaction found a champion and a spokesman in Ignacio de Luzán.

Luzán, born in Saragossa in 1702, was educated in Italy and absorbed the Classical and Renaissance traditions in the place where they survived most vigorously; and he did so at a time when nationalistic Italians increasingly affirmed «their» Classical heritage and condemned the Baroque, which, rightly or wrongly, they identified with their Spanish masters. Luzán participated actively in the intellectual life of Italy and obtained a thorough knowledge of Spanish, Italian, Latin, and French literatures. He seems also to have known Greek, English, and German and to have had some familiarity with their literatures as well. The fruit of these interests and studies was a theoretical literary treatise, La Poética (Poetics), published first in 1737 and again in a posthumous revised edition in 1789.

In this work, Luzán declares that the rules of poetry are the same and invariable for all times and all peoples. Since art, in the Aristotelian view, is the imitation of nature, the rules of art, including those of poetry, are ultimately derived by reason from nature. They are to be found in the critics and theorists of the Classical tradition: Aristotle, Horace, Quintilian, Muratori, etc. Poetry (meaning what today we call literature) must be useful or pleasing or, best of all, both useful and pleasing. Recognizing the usefulness of innocent pleasure and distraction, Luzán avoided a narrowly didactic concept of poetry. In order to achieve its aims, poetry must also possess clarity and verisimilitude, a concept which Luzán interprets broadly enough to allow for a distinction between scientific fact and poetic likeliness.

Luzán contributed to the critical devaluation of such Baroque literature as the Golden Age theater, which often strained his measures of usefulness and verisimilitude, and Góngoresque poetry, which often seemed neither useful nor clear. He also contributed to the appreciation of Renaissance poets of the sixteenth century as yet untainted by the Baroque, like Garcilaso de la Vega and Fray Luis de León. Luzán's book did not pass without contradiction; but it ably expresses a widely-held view which came to dominate Spanish letters in the second half of the eighteenth century, when the overwhelming majority of Spanish writers, or of those who count, are Neoclassicists.

This term should, I think, merely indicate a general adherence to the critical tradition ultimately derived from Aristotle. It need not imply «dry» rationalism and the exclusion of sentiment. On the contrary, toward the end of the century sentimental and realistic notes, sometimes called «Pre-Romantic», appear in the same poets, including Jovellanos, who adhere to the Neoclassic doctrine. Nor should we identify Neoclassicism with the Enlightenment, Encyclopaedism, and similar terms which refer to broader intellectual currents contemporary but not identical with the vogue of Neoclassic aesthetics.

Jovellanos and Poetry

While a student in the University of Alcalá de Henares, Jovellanos met Cadalso, two years his elder and, by all accounts, a man of extraordinary charm. «Perhaps spurred on», he later wrote, «by such a noble example,/ I dared to climb Parnassus/ heedless of bitter experience»7.

Jovellanos' interest in poetry must have existed before, but the example of Cadalso may have stimulated him to write poetry himself. This stimulation was soon reinforced by Jovellanos' milieu in Seville, where he arrived in 1768 and where all the arts were patronized by the governor, Pablo de Olavide. In this environment, himself young and not insensitive to feminine charms, Jovellanos found time among his judicial duties to produce a considerable amount of verse, some of which he collected in 1779 and presented to his brother, Francisco de Paula de Jovellanos.

According to a letter accompanying this collection (Caso, Poesías, pp. 89 ff.), lyric, and especially amatory, poetry, is «unworthy of a serious man»; and as a magistrate Jovellanos therefore believes that he cannot publish his work, although he is willing to entrust it to his brother. He also sketches his ideas on the history of Spanish poetry. In keeping with Neoclassic orthodoxy as it had developed since Luzán, our author declares that Spanish poetry flourished in the sixteenth century with the imitation of Latin and Italian models, undergoing in the seventeenth a corruption of taste from which it was gradually recovering.

Jovellanos never significantly modified either his view of the general development of Spanish poetry or his reluctance to publish his verses. José Caso González' edition of Jovellanos' poetry, the most complete and careful which we have, contains fifty two original poems of demonstrated authenticity, four equally authentic translations from English and French authors, seven poems attributed to Jovellanos, and five poetic fragments. Professor Caso further lists ten other poems which can with some certainty be attributed to Jovellanos but whose texts have been lost. The exiguity of this corpus is in part due to Jovellanos himself, who, perhaps with some exaggeration, writes that he burned most of the verses of his youth (Caso, Poesías, p. 91). Others, if not burned, must have been lost in the numerous wanderings of their author and his friends, several of whom died in exile. Of the poems which have been preserved, very few were published in Jovellanos' lifetime: the «Epístola de Fabio a Anfriso» («Epistle from Fabio to Anfriso»), in 1781; the «Idilio al sol» («Idyll to the Sun»), in 1786; two satires, in 1786 and 1787; a satirical sonnet, in 1788; and the «Canto guerrero para los asturianos» («Asturian Battle Hymn»), in 18118. All of these publications, with the exception of the «Idyll», were anonymous.

The «Battle Hymn», composed in 1810 (IV, 333a), testifies to its author's enduring interest in poetry, which, far from being only the amusement of his youth, was cultivated by him through all the vicissitudes of his life. Let us now examine some of the principal genres and outstanding works in Jovellanos' poetic production.

Erotic or Amatory Verses

Most of Jovellanos' erotic or amatory poems can be attributed to his Seville years (1768-1778) or the period immediately following. While the genre does seem most appropriate to youth, this chronological distribution may also reflect the differing for tunes of Jovellanos' manuscripts. A good many such poems were included in the manuscript collection Don Gaspar presented to his brother; his attitude toward this type of poetry, however, must have made the preservation of any subsequent writings in this line haphazard.

In this group we can place Jovellanos' sonnets, which show a certain flexibility of form. Along with the more traditional division of the sonnet into eight lines plus six, we find sonnets structurally (though not metrically) divisible into twelve lines plus two and eleven lines plus three. The language of these sonnets tends to be abstract. Their images and tropes are likely to be conventional («love's arrow»). To be sure, their subject is conventional, often, perhaps, the fruit more of gallantry than of passion; the form likewise is a highly conventional one, demanding, furthermore, a skill in rhyming which Jovellanos disclaimed (II, 315b).

This difficulty undoubtedly diminished in the composition of the idylls, which employ the then very popular seven-syllable verses with assonance in the even-numbered lines. This rhyming of only the vowels brings greater flexibility through a broader range of line endings. The themes of the idylls are largely related to love: the power of love; the beauty of the beloved; envy of the beloved's pet bird; the power of time to increase the beauty of the beloved and the desires of the speaker, but not his hopes; and that favorite of pastoral poetry, the infidelity of a mistress punished by the infidelity of her new lover.

The language of the idylls also tends toward abstraction. The Fourth Idyll (p. 137), for instance, thematically resembles Ode III of Juan Meléndez Valdés' «La paloma de Filis» («The Dove of Phyllis»)9; but whereas Meléndez apostrophizes a dove, Jovellanos addresses only a much less precise pajarillo, or «bird». Jovellanos' adjectives tend to be conventional. Thus we read in the Sixth Idyll (pp. 139-40): «No sale más galana / por las doradas puertas / de Oriente, del anciano / Titón la esposa bella...» («The fair bride of old Titon does not with greater splendor cross the golden gates of the East...»). In the remainder of the same idyll, we find «the soft bed», «the silvery moon», «the snow-white lily», and «Nature's beneficent hand». In Idyll Fifteen (p. 190) these are matched by «the rapid flight of time», «the fleeting years», and «implacable death».

What is true of the language of these poems can also be said of their imagery and tropes. The sensory images are largely conventional ones associated with either love (incense, altar, chains, etc.) or female beauty (roses, carnations, lilies, snow, etc.). Among the tropes one distinguishes traditional metaphors associated with erotic poetry, such as arrows and vengeance. References to nymphs, gods (particularly Love), goddesses, and personifications such as that of Betis, the Latin name of the Guadalquivir, give the verses a classical flavor. The Idylls seem to show us a Jovellanos imprisoned by a strict poetic convention in which he does not feel entirely at ease. In this he differs from his friend Meléndez, who, by those idiosyncrasies of talent which nothing can really explain, was ideally suited to this same type of poetry.

Jovellanos' outstanding work in the amatory genre is the elegy «A la ausencia de Marina» («To the Absence of Marina»), pp. 106-7, written in the unrhymed hendecasyllables which our author preferred and which he managed best. The poem begins with a reminiscence of Garcilaso de la Vega's sixteenth-century First Eclogue:

Corred sin tasa de los ojos míos
¡oh lágrimas amargas!

(Flow from my eyes without restraint or pause, oh bitter tears!)

It continues with four extended apostrophes, addressed, respectively, to the speaker's tears, to the beloved Marina, to a personified Absence, and again to Marina. It ends rather brusquely, leading Professor Caso (p. 106) to consider it unfinished; and this would explain, he conjectures, its remaining unpublished until 1956, when Professor Georges Demerson edited it in the Bulletin Hispanique, LVIII, 45.

The most interesting part of this poem is the last, in which Anselmo, the lover, breaks the conventional Renaissance flavored, somewhat abstract rhetorical tone of the earlier verses and, alternately speaking of himself in the third person and expressing himself directly in the first (an alternation which also occurs earlier in the poem), introduces nonconventional elements of sometimes striking vividness:

Ah, if, Marina, in this bitter moment
borne on the wings of love he could but reach you
upon the road! If he could cross with you
La Mancha's arid plain, if he could follow
your coach's rapid flight! How gladly then
would my hand urge the mules to greater speed,
if I could share the driver's task and place!
Or, in the dress and station of his helper
ceaselessly would I race and move my feet,
though weariness inflict a thousand wounds
upon them! And how gladly then would I
turn my sweat-covered face from time to time
toward you and offer you so sweet a toil!
Ah, with what yearning would I sometimes come,
shrouded in dust and grime, up to your side
and, climbing on-the step, ask you to cool
my forehead's burning with your white hand's touch
or with your lips give respite to my labors!

This passage, compared with most of Jovellanos' amatory verses, is rich in sensory images, especially those of touch. Rhetorical repetition («how gladly then») is common in Jovellanos' epistles. The hyperbolic «thousand wounds» are also a rhetorical element, contrasting with the concrete details that fill the other verses. These belong to the commonplace world: the coach, the mules, the driver and his assistant, the arid plain, the sweat, dust, tiredness, and wounded feet. In spite of the rhetorical «thousand», how great a contrast there is between this sharply delineated vulgar reality and the standardized, slightly vague, idealized world of bucolic poetry, with its meadows, flowers , shade-giving trees, and musical brooks, where pain and sorrow spring only from unrequited love.

The poetic awareness of ordinary life which appears in this elegy, and which is so different from the poetization of ordinary life, reflects the Enlightenment's concern with the lot of the common man. Campomanes, Jovellanos' political and economic mentor upon the latter's arrival in Madrid, was to publish two treatises on the training of the working class, dealing in specific terms with its needs and activities; and Jovellanos himself, in some of his later writings, is interested in the real conditions of life for the farmer and the city worker.

Professor Caso dates the poem which we have been discussing «about 1770». Thus even at the time that Jovellanos was composing rather conventional, somewhat stilted love poetry tending toward abstraction, traditional rhetorical devices, and the usual trappings of classical mythology, he also gave evidence of a descriptive power more fully developed in later poems. These, like our elegy, use blank verse, in which Jovellanos felt most at home and which allowed him most freely to develop his compositions.

Jovellanos and the School of Salamanca

Most of Jovellanos' love poems do not rise above the efforts of a well-intentioned amateur. Jovellanos himself, as we have seen, did not esteem the genre; and his desire to move away from this type of poetry and to move others away from it dominated his relations with the poetic school of Salamanca.

Jovellanos came into contact with these poets while he still lived in Seville, through the mediation of Fray Miguel Miras, an Augustinian who was in correspondence with his coreligionist in Salamanca, Fray Diego Tadeo González. In order to introduce himself to «Delio» (González), Jovellanos wrote the verse autobiography «Historia de Jovino» («History of Jovino», his poetic pseudonym), in 1775 or 1776. This composition has, on the whole, little poetic value. Its atmosphere is heavily Classical, with Latinized place names, poetic pseudonyms for all, and the usual population of nymphs, muses, etc. It has, however, both biographical and historical value; and it was the start of a prolonged correspondence in verse and prose between Jovellanos and the leading poets of the Salamancan group, most particularly González and the young Juan Meléndez Valdés.

To González (Delio), Meléndez (Batilo), and Fray Juan Fernández de Rojas (Liseno) Jovellanos addressed his First Epistle, «Carta de Jovino a sus amigos salmantinos» («Letter from Jovino to his Salamancan Friends»), mid-1776, pp. 117 ff. This composition in 358 blank hendecasyllables, after an introduction occasionally reminiscent of Vergil and Fray Luis de León, relates a dream in which Jovino sees seven horrible naked figures gathering among somber ruins. Their leader, Envy, complains of the fame which the Salamancans enjoy; and the dreadful crew, in order to deprive Delio, Batilo, and Liseno of this fame, prepare to bewitch them into being slaves of love and abandoning all poetic effort. In answer to Jovino's prayer, Apollo sends a light to drive away the evil band; and the dreamer, now awake, asks the Salamancans:

Shall the mysterious message of this dream
be fruitless, friends? And shall forever love
alone be subject matter of our songs?
How many worthy works, alas, do we
rob from the future ages for the sake
of an illusion sweet as it is fleeting,
a fragile glory that in turn robs us
of the high prize a deathless glory gives!
No, friends;
let us, by fate to higher aims led on,
for our poetic zeal such matter choose
as worthily long memory may enshrine.

Jovino then proceeds to suggest this matter: Delio is to devote his poetry to moral philosophy and religion; Batilo is to cultivate the epic and sing the deeds of Spanish heroes; and Liseno is to write tragedies, taking his subjects from the Spanish past. All three should cultivate comedy.

The narration of the dream occupies almost half the verses of the Epistle. The nocturnal scene among ruins is described with a Pre-Romantic delight in the horrifying and macabre; but, with its mythological machinery, it has a Classical antecedent in the Allecto episode of Book VIII of the Aeneid. There are textual reminiscences of Vergil, notably: y pues mi voz, a tu mandar atenta, / renueva en triste canto la memoria / del infando dolor... («and since my voice, heedful of your command, / in plaintive song refreshes the remembrance / of a sorrow unspeakable...»), which imitates Aeneid, III, 3: Infandum, Regina, iubes renovare dolorem («A sorrow unspeakable, Queen, do you order refreshed»).

The value and effect of Jovellanos' suggestions to his friends have been much discussed. Jovellanos has been accused of trying to lead the Salamancans from the bucolic and Anacreontic verse which they successfully cultivated into absurd tasks either unsuited to their temperaments or inherently unpoetic. Recent criticism, however, credits Jovellanos with seeing the need for a new trend in poetry, for a new poetic «mission»; and it points out that the directions which Jovellanos suggested were neither absurd nor contrary to the tastes of his times10. Whatever we may think of Meléndez' aptness for the epic, he wished, quite independently of Jovellanos, to cultivate this genre; and he was working on a translation of Homer when Jovino wrote his First Epistle. Delio (González), a monk in his mid-forties, might not unreasonably be asked to forsake erotic poetry for philosophy and religion. In effect, Jovellanos, as a good Neoclassicist, sought a more useful poetry in the service of Enlightened ideals. As for Jovellanos' suggestion that national subjects be used in epic and tragedy, it is no revolutionary harbinger of Romanticism; Spanish Neoclassicism, unlike the French of the «Grand Siècle», never abandoned native historical and literary tradition. Nicolás Fernández de Moratín, Cadalso, and Jovellanos himself, among others, had already written tragedies based on medieval Spanish history; and in 1778 the Royal Spanish Academy set Cortés' destruction of his ships as the subject for a competition in epic poetry.

Whatever the merits of Jovellanos' advice, its effects were real and lasting, and the Salamancans maintained a steady correspondence with him. The published letters of Meléndez show Batilo's veneration for the friend he had never met and who was not much his elder, and his willingness -indeed, eagerness- to submit his work to the guidance and correction of Jovino11. Although Batilo never did become an epic poet, his initiation into the philosophical and nature poetry of Pre-Romantic Europe was due to Jovellanos; and on his production in this genre rests much of his influence on subsequent poetic generations12. Jovellanos, furthermore, not only indicated poetic directions to his friends but also, through his «correction» (we should say «editing») of their works, exercised a technical influence on their verses (Caso, Poesías, pp. 36-37).

Jovellanos in turn submitted his poetry to the editorial discretion of the Salamancans; one of his best, and best known, poems, the Second Satire, was revised by Meléndez. The influence on Jovellanos, however, was entirely technical, not theoretical; and it is difficult to evaluate13.


Although possessed of high moral standards and a quick and severe critical spirit, Jovellanos was little suited by temperament to the role of public accuser and was often unhappy with his judicial duties. He felt some distaste for satire; yet, in spite of his very limited production in this genre, half of the poems he published in his lifetime belong to it, and his poetic reputation depends heavily on these works.

The satire was a genre especially in keeping with the preeminently critical spirit of the Enlightenment. Not only could it judge old institutions; it also examined emerging ways of life, which, as always, seemed to portend a dreadful decline of morality and the eventual collapse of the social order. Furthermore, an age which valued useful poetry, which thought that literature should instruct as well as entertain, could not but cherish the satire as the embodiment of these twin aims. Jovellanos' contribution to the genre consists of six moderately witty epigrams and several literary and social satires.

During the time of his residence in Madrid, Jovellanos was involved in some of the literary polemics, often degenerating to the level of backyard squabbles, which abounded in the 1780's. From the middle of these years date the two romances, or octosyllabic ballads, «Against Huerta». Vincente García de la Huerta, poet, dramatist, and critic of marked and somewhat eccentric tastes, was himself a vigorous polemicist. His Raquel (1778) is probably the best Spanish Neoclassic tragedy, and this success, as well as his theoretical and orthographic peculiarities, were not easily forgiven by his contemporaries. Huerta undertook the defense of the Golden Age theater, which did not endear him to those who sought a total reform of the stage. Jovellanos' romances, in burlesque chivalric style, narrate the battle between Huerta and Juan Pablo Forner, with passing jabs at other contemporary literary figures. These compositions, though occasionally witty, are, in their pettiness and insulting tone, unworthy of Jovellanos, who nevertheless took enough pride in them to make him resent Forner's claim to the authorship of one. The same style prevails in a jácara, or burlesque composition in short verses, against the same Huerta and in an unfinished romance against Forner.

The two satires published in the periodical El Censor in 1786 and 1787, respectively, are addressed to a certain Arnesto, who is probably a fictional personage serving only as the satirist's interlocutor and confidant (Caso, Poesías, p. 474, n. 212). Both poems are written in Jovellanos' favorite meter, the blank hendecasyllable. The First Satire consists of 167 verses; the Second, of 285.

The First Satire begins with fourteen lines of introductory material, ending with the traditional claim to be attacking the sin or vice, not the sinner. The evil which Jovellanos then chastises is the corruption of women, especially of noble women. He embodies his main theme, adultery, in a figure and scene of graphic crudeness:

Hubo un tiempo en que andaba la modestia
dorando los delitos; hubo un tiempo
en que el recato tímido cubría
la fealdad del vicio; pero huyóse
el pudor a vivir en las cabañas.
Con él huyeron los dichosos días,
que ya no volverán; huyó aquel siglo
en que aun las necias burlas de un marido
las Bascuñanas crédulas tragaban;
mas hoy Alcinda desayuna al suyo
con ruedas de molino; triunfa, gasta,
pasa saltando las eternas noches
del crudo enero, y cuando el sol tardío
rompe el oriente, admírala golpeando,
cual si fuese una extraña, al propio quicio.
Entra barriendo con la undosa falda
la alfombra; aquí y allí cintas y plumas
del enorme tocado siembra, y sigue
con débil paso soñolienta y mustia,
yendo aún Fabio de su mano asido,
hasta la alcoba, donde a pierna suelta
ronca el cornudo y sueña que es dichoso.
Ni el sudor frío, ni el hedor, ni el rancio
eructo le perturban. A su hora
despierta el necio; silencioso deja
la profanada holanda, y guarda atento
a su asesina el sueño mal seguro.
   ¡Cuántas, oh Alcinda, a la coyunda uncidas,
tu suerte envidian! Cuántas de Himeneo
buscan el yugo para lograr tu suerte,
y sin que invoquen la razón, ni pese
su corazón los méritos del novio,
el sí pronuncian y la mano alargan
al primero que llega!

(Pp. 236-37)                

(There was a time once when a sense of shame
gilded their crimes and covered timidly
the ugliness of vice; but modesty
has fled the Court to live in peasants' huts.
And with it fled the happy days gone by,
the age when wives revered their husbands' word.
Today Alcinda asks her mate to swallow
millstones for breakfast; and in social triumphs
and dancing spends his fortune and the nights
of bitter January, till the sun
sluggishly rising, is amazed to see
how, stranger-like, at her own door she knocks.
She enters, sweeping with her flowing skirt
the rug and leaving scattered here and there
the plumes and ribbons of her giant headdress.
Drowsy and languid, but with Fabio still
holding her hand, she weakly finds her way
to the bedchamber where the snoring cuckold
sleeps like a log and dreams he's fortunate.
Neither cold sweat, nor stench, nor rancid belch
bother the fool until his time to rise,
when quietly he leaves dishonored sheets,
not to disturb his foe's uneasy sleep.
   How many, Alcinda, are those in wedlock yoked
envious of your fate! How many those
who week that yoke for such a fate as yours,
and without heeding reason and without
weighing their suitors' merits in their hearts,
pronounce their «Yes» and offer forth their hand
to the first comer!)

On the last two lines Goya based the second etching in his series of Caprichos.

The passage quoted illustrates the First Satire's alternation between general considerations, expressed in abstract, metaphorical, and allegorical language («modesty / gilded their crimes», «in wedlock yoked»), and specific examples, using concrete terms and vulgar, sometimes shocking, details in sharp sensory images like «sweeping with her flowing skirt / the rug» and «Neither cold sweat, nor stench, nor rancid belch».

Attacks on adultery are, in all likelihood, approximately coeval with the institution of marriage. They were, however, particularly common in Jovellanos' time, which by all accounts, experienced a relaxation of sexual mores, especially in the upper classes and most particularly for women, men never having suffered very severe restrictions anyhow. This moral emancipation was accompanied by the rise of a peculiar institution, the cortejo, the «official» and recognized male friend of a married woman. In many cases this relationship was no doubt more or less innocent; yet it must have been essentially unstable, slipping easily into tacitly accepted adultery. Both the cortejo and the excessive freedom of the noble woman are depicted in Jovellanos' satire, where Alcinda not only leaves her house at night, but returns to it in the company of Fabio, the gallant who escorts her right into the conjugal bedroom.

While the rich and noble adulteress triumphs unpunished, the machinery of justice cruelly chastises

the unhappy victims who are dragged to vice
by poverty and lack of all protection,
the helpless orphan harried without cease
by gold and hunger, or who yields to love
and is seduced by tender flattery.

Jovellanos' strict morality makes him demand equal treatment for all social classes. He sees the individual crime as a result of social as well as individual factors, and so the prostitute becomes for him an «unhappy victim» of society, not idealized in the Romantic fashion but neither, as she has traditionally been, only an object of utility, derision, and scorn. This facet of Jovellanos' attack on adultery reflects the new sensibility and social consciousness of the Enlightenment and the trend toward more humane treatment of all kinds of criminals.

After describing the behavior of Alcinda, Jovellanos proceeds to suggest, like Cadalso and other satirists of the latter eighteenth century, that general frivolity and the spread of luxury are the corrupters of morality. He then matches Alcinda with another concrete but much less developed example, that of «the reckless maiden» whose foolish vanity leads her along the road to perdition. The poem ends with some thirty verses decrying what their author sees as general corruption, frivolity, and venality.

The alternation of the general and the specific, observed in the First Satire, characterizes several of Jovellanos' best compositions. His age strove for universality; and it therefore needed to transcend the particular, and especially, as we shall see in another famous poem of our author's, the subjective. At the same time, however, the doors of literature were being opened to the details of ordinary life, necessarily specific and sometimes expressed with brutal realism. We have already seen this feature in the elegy «To the Absence of Marina». The same novelty of language-crude details, «vulgar» expressions-is largely responsible for the forcefulness, the «shock value» of the First Satire.

Shortly after the appearance of this satire in El Censor, the same paper published two letters signed with the pseudonym «El Conde de las Claras» («The Count of Plain Words»), which a distinguished scholar ascribes (unnecessarily, I believe) to Jovellanos himself14. These letters begin by complaining that the First Satire is not sufficiently specific. According to the «Count», Jovellanos' poem uses too much allegorical and mythological language and too elevated a style. Furthermore, it is not harsh enough. The critic believes that in order to do any good, satire must attack the class that sets the moral tone of society, the nobility. This class, however, is vulnerable only in its pride of descent and of wealth; and satire must therefore show it that its conduct endangers its claim to both riches and noble descent and makes it inferior to any ordinary but honest man.

This advice is followed in Jovellanos' Second Satire, published in El Censor in 1787, after the appearance of the «Count's» letters, and usually titled, though not by Jovellanos himself, «On the Faulty Education of the Nobility». The Second Satire, longer than the First, dispenses with any introductory passage and immediately presents a degenerate noble who affects the vulgar elegance and bully valor of that lower-class type known as the majo. He leans against a corner, wrapped in a huge cape, pale, dirty, tobacco-stained, with long sideburns and a generally «tough» air. Although of illustrious descent, he has been brought up by ignorant and corrupt servants and is himself ignorant of everything except gambling, bulls, actresses, and prostitutes.

Almost two hundred verses are devoted to this young noble, and then some fifty to another type, «a pretty, perfumed, sugar pastry fop, / whose noble dress is cover to vile thoughts». Educated in France, he speaks neither French nor Spanish but an unintelligible hodgepodge of the two. A single verse epitomizes his life: Puteó, jugó, perdió salud y bienes («He whored and played and lost his health and goods»). If he does not die young as a result of these excesses, he grows old in «cynical and infamous bachelorhood»; or perhaps he marries and makes a victim of his wife, for vice has weakened him and venereal diseases have «infected the seed of life». This second noble type, less extensively and precisely described than the first, loses individuality as his life dissolves into three possible trajectories.

The Second Satire concludes with a judgment on the class which the two young nobles typify and which Jovellanos compares with the heroes of the Middle Ages and of the conquest of America:

Where now is Villandrando's sturdy arm,
Argüello's or Paredes' robust shoulders?
The heavy helmet, the high plumed crest-
were they for sickly skulls, and feeble, forged?
Who now can wear the hard and sparkling breastplate
o'er leather jacket and a coat of mail?
Who now can couch the weighty lance? Who now...?
Return, oh Berber fierce, return, once more
to overrun the land from South to North,
for no Pelayos or Alfonsos now
will offer you resistance; pygmies weak
await you, and submissive they will fall
at the first hint of curved scimitar...
And this, Arnesto, is a noble? This,
the sum and substance of a proud descent?
And of what use are class and noble race
if virtue's lacking? What has now become
of venerated names of ages past,
of Laras, Tellos, Haros, and Girones?
What evil spirit tarnishes the fame
of all their triumphs? Are they sons of theirs,
those to whom now the throne looks for defense?
Are these the nobles of Castile? Is this
the arm, once feared, in which our people saw
its freedom's guaranty? Oh shame! Oh age!
The law's support has failed; all falls; the slime
ferments and haughty spirits breeds who rise
to the Olympian thrones. And what of that?
Let common men burst boldly forth and seize
honors and titles, splendor, noble rank.
Let all in infamous confusion sink,
and do away with classes and estates.
Virtue alone can be their guard and shield;
without her, let all end and come to nought.

(Pp. 252-53)                

The Second Satire is less given to general considerations than the First. In keeping with the recommendations of the «Conde de las Claras», it concentrates on specific and concrete portrayals of the two noble types, for whom critics have proposed a number of real models (Caso, Poesías, pp. 476-78). In their concrete passages, however, the two Satires are equally vigorous.

As Professor Caso points out, the theme of the bad education of the nobility, quite apart from possible literary models in previous periods, was a common one in Jovellanos' time. To go no further, the seventh of Cadalso's Cartas marruecas (Moroccan Letters) presents an idle young gentleman reminiscent in many ways of Jovellanos' nobles. Il Giorno, Giuseppe Parini's great eighteenth-century satirical poem, treats the same subject, with some coincidences of motifs and wording15.

The concept of nobility underlying both Satires is the same that is found in Jovellanos' political and pedagogical writings: the privileges of the noble class must be justified by corresponding obligations, which in the past were chiefly military, but now must be largely cultural and moral. The last nine verses (eleven in the original) of the Second Satire were not published in Jovellanos' lifetime; their message, which foretells the fate of hereditary aristocracy after 1789, is, however, clearly though less strongly repeated in 1794, when Jovellanos warns the nobles of his province that only patriotism and virtue can justify their privileges (I, 323a).

The First and Second Satires suffice to give Jovellanos a distinguished place among eighteenth-century poets by the clarity of their organization, the rhythmic flexibility of their lines, the brilliance of some of their sketches, the vigor of their expression, and the often revolutionary pungency of their language. Satire, however, is only a small part of Jovellanos' work and corresponds largely to the Madrid period of his life. We now know of only two satires written after 1788. Both use hendecasyllabic tercets, favored for this genre since the Renaissance. One is directed against lawyers, in 240 verses; the other is a fifteen-line fragment of a literary satire.


The blank hendecasyllable, which Jovellanos used to good effect in his first two satires, is also the meter of all but one of his epistles. It is ideally suited to the familiar style demanded by this poetic genre, which, in spite of a distinguished history going back to Classical times, is today practically lost.

We have ten epistles by Jovellanos. The first, addressed to his Salamancan friends, has already been discussed. The second is directed to Jean-François-Ange d'Eymar, abbé de Walchrétien, translator into French of Jovellanos' play El delincuente honrado (The Honorable Culprit). In rather generalized language, it describes an imaginary visit to the official Madrid of the late 1770's. Its personifications and Classical elements remind us of the allegorical and emblematic graphic art of the period.

Far more interesting is the Third Epistle, «Epístola heroica de Jovino a sus amigos de Sevilla» («Heroic Epistle from Jovino to his Friends in Seville»), which expresses Jovellanos' sentiments as he goes from Seville to his new position in Madrid in 1778. It is notable for its realistic reproduction of the sensations of the voyage:

Obedient to the whims of cruel fate
my body's dragged away, while in a gulf
profound of troubled thought my spirit's plunged.
How fast the rapid mules carry me off,
delightful Betis, from your pleasant shore!
in ceaseless trot they follow on the voice
of heartless driver, whom my bitter tears
move less than them. They follow on his voice;
while tiresome jangling of discordant bells,
the whip's harsh crack, the hoarse and threatening cry
of cursing muleteer, and the wheels' bustle
as on the steep and stony road they turn
the screeching axle-all of these combined
shatter my ear and heart at the same time.
From town to town, from inn to inn they drag
my aching members, as if all of me
already were a corpse, rigid, unfeeling.

(P. 149)                

The details of coach travel are strongly reminiscent of the elegy «To the Absence of Marina». In the same realistic vein, the traveler's eyes «see everywhere only an arid desert», partly because he projects his sorrow onto the world around him (a projection characteristic of Romanticism, but as old as the eclogues of Garcilaso de la Vega and, indeed, of Vergil), and partly because as he travels northward this is what he actually sees.

Jovellanos' interest in vulgar details was condemned by some critics as unpoetic (Caso, Poesías, pp. 457-59, nn. 111 and 116), yet it is both an expression of the interests of his time and a forerunner of subsequent aesthetic tendencies. The eighteenth century awoke to the existence of the popular. Statesmen and reformers concerned themselves with the economic, intellectual, and moral development of the peasant and the laborer; and, on the more trivial yet no less revealing side, the nobles of Spain aped the dress and manners of the lower-class majos. Romanticism, in the coming century, was to develop further this interest in «the people» and the popular, along with the picturesque detail. Romanticism was also to proclaim the aesthetic value of the ugly, justifying the kind of ordinary and even unpleasant features that we find in Jovellanos' lines. Unlike many Romantics, however, Jovellanos does not sentimentalize or idealize the popular element. His driver and muleteer are unfeeling brutes, little better than the animals in their charge; they do not resemble the innately virtuous worker and peasant dear to nineteenth century Romantics and their twentieth-century spiritual descendants.

Sentimentality in Jovellanos' poem is largely subjective. The speaker presents himself as a victim of a «cruel fate»; he refers to his «bitter tears»; and he gives us an apology of that characteristically eighteenth-century delight, sentimental weeping:

Since when is natural tenderness a crime?
Could e'en the boldest eye condemn the tears
shed in the bosom of a spotless friendship?
Let those men hide their tears who to the world
give through them witness of their weaknesses;
howe'er, the gentle heart, open alone
to the chaste flame of friendship, shall it be
ashamed of virtuous tenderness?

The motifs of friendship and of virtue are favorites in the sentimental poetry of the latter part of the century; and the apology of tears is likewise to be found in Jovellanos' drama (I, 83a). Indeed, tears, with or without apology, flow copiously, and often not only figuratively, in the life and literature of the second half of the eighteenth century, from Samuel Richardson on. An increasingly morbid sentimentality, quite uncalled-for by the author's transfer to Madrid, marks the closing lines of the present epistle, in which Jovellanos anticipates the coming of old age and of «slow-stepping, lazy death, the only harbor / that offers shelter from life's final ills». «Ah, when», he asks, «will the day so longed for come / to put an end to ever-flowing tears?»

In addition to these realistic and sentimental elements, one finds in the poem literary reminiscences from the Neoclassic tradition. There are echoes of Horace and of Garcilaso, and there is a «literarization» of the landscape which contrasts with the sharply delineated details smacking of direct observation. So depressed is the poet that, according to him, nothing pleases him

Neither the joyous fields, richly adorned
with autumn's gold, nor rustic merriment
which innocently echoes in the vales
as boisterous youth steals Father Bacchus' gifts,
nor the green slopes, where tender bleating lambs
play with their mothers' overflowing teats,
nor tuneful birds that warble in the wind,
nor murmuring brook that winds its silvery way...

Here the pattern of bucolic poetry is imposed on nature. The nature shown by these lines has been observed in books, not necessarily in reality. In other instances the poet observes through a Classical prism, as when he refers to the olive as «Minerva's sacred tree».

Professor Caso argues convincingly that Jovellanos began his poem on the road, and that this immediacy of experience is reflected in the realistic descriptions of landscapes and sensations; but that once in Madrid, he proceeded to «polish» his work and «raise» its tone by interpolating elements which derive from literary tradition, not only from personal experience (Poesías, pp. 28 ff., 148).

We find the same tendency to elaborate the immediate expression of subjective experience in order to generalize it or fit it into a literary pattern in one of Jovellanos' most famous poems and one of the few published in his lifetime, the «Epístola de Fabio a Anfriso», or «Epístola del Paular» (in Professor Caso's edition, «Epístola de Jovino a Anfriso, escrita desde el Paular», [«Epistle from Jovino to Anfriso, Written from El Paular»]). This work exists in two versions. One dates from 1779 but remained unknown until it was published by José Caso González in 196016. The other was probably written in 1780 and was published by Antonio Ponz in his Viaje de España (Spanish Journey) in 1781.

The earlier version consists of 191 blank hendecasyllables addressed by Jovino to Anfriso, the poetic name of Jovellanos' friend and colleague in the magistrature, Mariano Colón. After the salutation, Jovino expresses his desire for a peaceful life of retirement, inspired by the place in which he writes and to which he had been sent on official business, the monastery of El Paular, in the Sierra de Guadarrama, not far from Madrid. This desire is, however, frustrated by the memory of Jovino's treacherous mistress, Enarda, a pseudonym which appears several times in Jovellanos' poetry and whose bearer no one has satisfactorily identified. Jovino proceeds to describe the lovely natural setting of the monastery: a river, trees, shade -a locus amoenus in the best literary tradition, but this time directly and quite accurately observed in nature. Jovino, however, avoids this pleasant place and seeks another setting more in keeping with his mood: dark, silent, and autumnal (although the poem was written, or at least begun, in summer). He then tells the story of Enarda's betrayal. His solitude awakens fear in him -indeed, terror- as well as sadness and a general lassitude, a taedium vitae.

Fundamental to the structure of the poem is the clash between Jovino's longing for peace and the irrepressible remembrance of his frustrated love. This emotional contrast is reflected in the variation between two types of nature: the gentle, receptive, benevolent nature of the pleasance, none the less authentic for conforming to a literary tradition; and the lugubrious, highly subjectivized nature to which Jovino flees to ruminate on his sorrows. The poem moves from one contrasting element to another while establishing a parallelism between Jovino's inner world and the outer world of nature.

The second version is somewhat longer than the first. The major novelty, however, is not the length, but the deliberate depersonalization which strikes the reader in the later poem. Jovino, the transparent and unique pseudonym of Jovellanos, has been replaced by Fabio, a stock pseudonym of the Classical literary tradition. All mention of Enarda has disappeared, as has the story of the speaker's unfortunate love. His unhappiness and his desire for peace remain, but without concrete motivation. No memory of a specific woman, but only the metaphoric chain of slavery to «the world» is set against Fabio's longing for quietness. The emotional tension is thus less sharply defined.

The contrast between the two kinds of nature remains the same in the second version:

¡Ay, Anfriso, qué escenas a mis ojos,
cansados de llorar, presenta el cielo!
Rodeado de frondosos y altos montes
se extiende un valle, que de mil delicias
con sabia mano ornó Naturaleza.
Pártele en dos mitades, despeñado
de las vecinas rocas, el Lozoya,
por su pesca famoso y dulces aguas.
Del claro río sobre el verde margen
crecen frondosos álamos, que al cielo
ya erguidos alzan las plateadas copas,
o ya sobre las aguas encorvados,
en mil figuras miran con asombro
su forma en los cristales retratada.
De la siniestra orilla un bosque ombrío
hasta la falda del vecino monte
se extiende, tan ameno y delicioso,
que le hubiera juzgado el gentilismo
morada de algún dios, o a los misterios
de las silvanas dríadas guardado.
Aquí encamino mis inciertos pasos,
y en su recinto ombrío y silencioso,
mansión la más conforme para un triste,
entro a pensar en mi crüel destino.
La grata soledad, la dulce sombra,
el aire blando y el silencio mudo
mi desventura y mi dolor adulan.
   No alcanza aquí del padre de las luces
el rayo acechador, ni su reflejo
viene a cubrir de confusión el rostro
de un infeliz en su dolor sumido.
El canto de las aves no interrumpe
aquí tampoco la quietud de un triste,
pues sólo de la viuda tortolilla
se oye tal vez el lastimero arrullo,
tal vez el melancólico trinado
de la angustiada y dulce Filomena.
Con blando impulso el céfiro süave
las coplas de los árboles moviendo,
recrea el alma con el manso ruido;
mientras al dulce soplo desprendidas,
las agostadas hojas, revolando,
bajan en lentos círculos al suelo;
cúbrenle en torno, y la frondosa pompa
que al árbol adornara en primavera,
yace marchita, y muestra los rigores
del abrasado estío y seco otoño.
¡Así también de juventud lozana
pasan, oh Anfriso, las livianas dichas!

(Pp. 183-84)                

(What scenes, Anfriso, to my tear-worn eyes
does heaven present! High leafy hills ring in
a valley that by Nature's knowing hand
has been endowed with myriad delights.
Lozoya, rushing from the neighboring rocks,
divides it with its waters justly famed
for fish and purity, and on its banks
the leafy poplars raise their silvery tops,
or bending o'er the waters, see astonished
how in a thousand shapes the fleeting crystal
reflects their form. A shady forest lies
between the left bank and the nearby hill,
so pleasant and delightful that of old
men would have thought it dwelling of some god
or sacred to the cult of woodland dryads.
Here do I guide my faltering steps and enter
the shady silent space, fit home of sadness,
to ponder lonely my unhappy fate.
The pleasing solitude, the shade so sweet,
the gentle breeze, the silence -all combine
to soothe my sorrow, my unhappiness.
    The searching ray of the chief of all lights
does not reach here or bring a painful blush
to the unfortunate in sorrow sunk.
Neither does song of birds here interrupt
the sad man's quietness, for all he hears
is mournful cooing of the widowed dove
or melancholy trill of nightingale,
anguished and sweet. The kindly Zephyr moves
the treetops softly and with gentle sound
delights the soul, while by his sweet breath torn
loose from their branches, the parched leaves descend,
fluttering in slow circles, to the ground.
They cover it; and spring's bright leafy dress
lies wilted by hot summer and dry fall.
In this same way the frivolous delights
of our bright youth, Anfriso, pass away!)

The second version of the Epistle contains one element not present in the first: the exaltation of the life of a penitent monk, a tranquil and harmonious life which is contrasted with the troubled feelings, the sadness, and the terror of Fabio. Thus the internal emotional contrast, less clear in the second version than in the first, is partially replaced or supplemented by an external contrast between two types of life and two emotional states, represented by two separate figures.

Comparison of the two versions of this celebrated poem shows Jovellanos' tendency, characteristic of the philosophical and aesthetic trends of his time, to generalize and objectivize the originally subjective elements and to fit them into a scheme which would be universally applicable. Within the poem we also find the same alternation between general and particular, abstract and concrete, that marks the First Satire, written some seven years later. With the systematic suppression of the personal, the second version perhaps loses some of the immediacy and freshness of the first; yet it continues to be relatively rich in sensory images and in concrete language. It deserves the high place which criticism has traditionally assigned to it.

The description of nature also predominates in Jovellanos' Fifth Epistle, addressed to Meléndez and containing a sensory, historical, and religious appreciation of the Leonese country-side. In a more familiar and humorous vein, the Sixth Epistle describes the landscapes of León and Castile and contrasts them with the flourishing agricultural region of La Rioja. This contrast, in turn, leads Jovellanos to considerations reminiscent of his Report on the Agrarian Law, practically contemporary with this poem.

The subsequent epistles tend to abandon concrete language and to deal more with abstract philosophical themes, indicative of Jovellanos' ideological development, but usually not productive of first-rate poetry. An exception is the Tenth (and last) Epistle (1807), addressed to Ceán Bermúdez during its author's captivity in Majorca. It offers the reader examples of «the vain desires and studies of men» in vigorous language reminiscent of the satires. The poem's structure is well defined: after the introduction, Jovellanos deals with the vanity of human desires, then stressing the importance of Virtue, which thus occupies the physical and philosophical center of the poem; this central section is followed by exposition of the vanity of human studies, after which the conclusion returns to the theme of virtue:

Wisdom and happiness in virtue seek,
for truth and virtue are the same, and they
alone can give your soul a peace secure
in purity of conscience, a true freedom
in curbing your desires, and true joy
in the sweet happiness of doing good.
All else is wind and vanity and woe.

Miscellaneous Verse Works

Like all the poets of his time, Jovellanos wrote verses to commemorate such occasions as birthdays, weddings, and deaths. These poems rely heavily on Classical mythology and allegory, as did the graphic arts of the period; and their language tends to be abstract. They do not display our author's poetic gifts to the best advantage.

Different, and superior in the force of its sentiment and its correspondingly vigorous rhythm is the «Asturian Battle Hymn» urging resistance to Bonaparte. Jovellanos here employs strongly dactylic ten-syllable verses with repeated assonance in final stressed o. The eight-line strophe with four-line refrain had been used by the eighteenth-century Italian poet Pietro Metastasio and came, perhaps through the influence of Jovellanos, to be current in Spanish and Spanish-American patriotic hymns. Specifically, Jovellanos' «Battle Hymn» inspired the Argentine national anthem of Vicente López y Planes17.

In the 1770's Jovellanos rendered into Spanish verse two fables by La Fontaine and Montesquieu's prose poem «Céphise et l'Amour» («Cephise and Eros»). His most ambitious effort in translation, however, is a version in blank hendecasyllables of the first canto of Milton's Paradise Lost. Fragments of the same work were translated by Cadalso in his Suplemento al papel intitulado Los eruditos a la violeta (Supplement to the Pamphlet Titled The Violet-Water Scholars), 1772. Jovellanos began to work on his translation in Seville (Ceán, p. 293), that is, about the same time that Cadalso did; and his attention may have been drawn to the English poem by his poetic mentor. Paradise Lost continued to occupy Jovellanos for many years, as his interest in English letters and thought came to prevail over the French orientation of his youthful years in the circle of Olavide. In 1796 we find him polishing his translation; and in 1806, while a prisoner on Majorca, he delights in the receipt of an English French bilingual edition of Milton (D II, 249; IV, 78b).

Jovellanos as a Poet

Jovellanos is not the major poet of his age, but he is an important one both for his influence on others and in himself. He contributed to the rise of a civic poetry that sang of patriotism, the betterment of mankind, virtue, and friendship. He led in the introduction of realistic themes developed in realistic language, a language which scandalized contemporary parlor poets. His poetic speech is highly flexible; the smoothly-flowing verse is often replaced by the broken line of interrogations and exclamations. It thus reclaims for poetry the rhythms of everyday speech, just as it often deals with the experiences of everyday life. This poetic trend, sometimes called «Enlightened» and sometimes «Pre-Romantic», culminated in Juan Meléndez Valdés and Nicasio Álvarez de Cienfuegos, both influenced by Jovellanos18. Jovellanos' letters testify to his constant concern with metrics; and although he made no technical innovations, «he gave new value to blank verse and to certain rhythmic elements of the hendecasyllable» (Caso, Poesías, pp. 54, 57).

Flexible rhythm and a broad concept of poetic language allow Jovellanos to achieve forceful expression; yet his flexibility does not become formlessness, as the careful structure of his works shows. These qualities of his verse are best combined in the satire, with its stress on morality, and in descriptions of nature. Both types of poetry concern themselves with topics close to Jovellanos' heart, and also important in his prose works. Although sincerity is the most overrated virtue, and in poetry, no virtue at all, Jovellanos' poetry is at its best when it springs from some enthusiasm -moral or aesthetic- and is then polished in subsequent periods of reflection. Polishing alone did not get Jovellanos beyond discreet mediocrity, as his amatory and occasional verses demonstrate.

Of the six poems that Jovellanos published in his lifetime, three -the first two satires and the «Epistle to Anfriso»- have won the acclaim of succeeding critics and literary historians of the most diverse schools, a percentage of successes which testifies to the author's good taste and poetic sensibility. Poetry, to be sure, was never the major concern of Jovellanos, a man for whom, at any rate, ethical considerations always outweighed the aesthetic; but it was a lasting concern, not only providing him with the pleasure of creation but also informing his vision of even the most mundane realities as he strove to bring a better life to his countrymen through a synthesis of the good and the beautiful.


Chapter III


The Crisis of Eighteenth-Century Spanish Theater

In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Spain produced a theater which in the quantity of its productions, their quality, and the permanence of their interest, is unequalled in Europe. The playwrights of this Golden Age drew their subject matter from many different sources and elaborated it in keeping with theatrical conventions which, though not codified in any ancient critical texts, gained authority from the example of that remarkable genius, Lope de Vega. Their plays contain three acts, employing a variety of verse forms and shifting from one form to another within the play according to recognizable patterns. They utilize certain stock themes (most notably, the defense of honor), attitudes, types of speeches, and motifs. Within these generally observed limits, the playwrights of Spain's Golden Age enjoyed great artistic freedom. They created a theater appealing to all classes and kinds of citizens and providing something for each and all: amusement, stimulation of thought, and aesthetic satisfaction. Furthermore, by presenting the glorious and heroic past of imperial and Catholic Spain, her equally glorious present, and the expectation of a likewise glorious future, many of these plays must have left their audiences with the comfortable feeling that God was in His heaven, the king on his throne, and all was right with the world. In some ways, then, this theater performed a social function analogous to that of the Hollywood movie before the invention of experimental films, problem films, protest films, and the like.

This type of play dominated the Spanish stage well into the eighteenth century, but by the late seventeenth century playwrights were turning the brilliant intuitions of their Golden Age predecessors into conventions. As the intrinsic originality of their works decreased, they sought to maximize surprise and shock; and their plays became more mannered and more derivative, much as has happened with horror films produced in imitation of such classics as Dracula.

It was with this theater that Ignacio de Luzán and his followers took issue, although their critical principles often brought them also to attack the playwrights of the Golden Age. Luzán's dramatic theory, expressed in Book III of his Poetics, stems from Aristotle and Horace and their commentators, particularly the Italian and the French. It emphasizes the social function of art, the purity of literary genres, and the dramatic unities.

Luzán believed that theater, like all art, has a useful as well as an ornamental social role. Tragedy, the more «noble» dramatic genre, dealing with the passions of men of high estate, should purge and refine emotions and provide instructive examples. Comedy, dealing with the behavior of common men, should, while amusing its audience, criticize abuses and thus further their correction. Each genre has its function, its subject matter, and its proper style (elevated for tragedy, plain for comedy); and the two genres must not be blended in a single play, lest one destroy the effect of the other. In order to maintain an illusion of reality and thus further the pleasure and salutary instruction of the spectator, all shocking inverisimilitude must be eliminated. A play should therefore deal with a single main action, to which any secondary actions are subordinated. It must avoid startling shifts of scene, lest the spectator, realizing that he is still sitting in the same theater, begin to reject the whole fictional apparatus. It must not claim for its action an extent of time so manifestly out of keeping with the real time taken up by the performance as to make the viewer escape completely from the imaginary world of the stage.

We need not concern ourselves now with further details of Luzán's dramatic theory. Its defects are those of all Neoclassic theories: utilitarianism and lack of faith in the imagination of the spectator. On the other hand, the famous unities do produce a structural tightness that intensifies dramatic, and particularly tragic, effect. These unities, furthermore, as well as the didactic purpose of art, are rather liberally and intelligently interpreted by Luzán.

The Golden Age produced few tragedies in the Neoclassic sense, since it mixed tragic elements with the comic, much as occurs in the tragedies of Shakespeare, Lope de Vega's contemporary. Golden Age comedy, furthermore, is not primarily, or even usually, critical of manners, as Neoclassical comedy ought to be. The unity of action is normally observed; but, again like the Shakespearean theater, the Golden Age pays no attention to the unities of time and place, ranging freely over the globe and the years in the course of a single play. Educated Spaniards of the eighteenth century saw that their national theater ignored the «rules» of drama accepted throughout Europe, and that much current production was of low quality by any standards. They were also aware of the ridicule liberally bestowed on them by foreigners. In France, Boileau had scornfully referred to the shocking excesses which might be committed only by «a rhymester from beyond the Pyrenees». The theater, in eighteenth-century Europe, was considered a touchstone of a nation's level of civilization and culture; and the Spaniards of that time, so open to foreign thought, were quick to develop a sense of their inferiority in this respect.

Luzán's ideas, vigorously discussed in the years following their publication, increasingly prevailed among Spain's intellectual elite. Not only were they accepted theoretically, but they stimulated efforts to create a «regular» theater, that is, a theater observant of the «rules» of Neoclassic drama. Most of the major literary figures of the middle and late eighteenth century were involved in this task: Luzán himself, author of Neoclassic comedies; Agustín Montiano y Luyando, a pioneer in the field of eighteenth-century tragedy; Nicolás Fernández de Moratín; Tomás de Iriarte, author of comedies of manners; Cadalso; Vicente García de la Huerta, author of the tragedy Raquel and defender of the Golden Age playwrights; and Leandro Fernández de Moratín, the son of Don Nicolás and author of various comedies, among them the justly famous El sí de las niñas (A Maiden's Consent).

Such efforts received support from a government concerned with cultural development. The ministers of Charles III prohibited the performance of the allegorical religious plays called autos sacramentales and of comedias de santos, whose saintly heroes, to the outrage of the more puritanical and less imaginative, were often portrayed by actors and actresses whose not-so private lives fell a good deal short of sanctity. As first minister, the Count of Aranda also favored the Neoclassic cause by establishing theaters in the royal seats surrounding Madrid and commissioning for performance in them translations of «regular» foreign plays, mainly by French authors of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These theaters, created in 1768, lasted about eight years; and the translations for them were, like the original dramas mentioned above, prepared by some of the main literary figures of the time.


These are the literary and cultural circumstances under which Jovellanos, at the age of twenty-five, wrote his first known play, the tragedy Pelayo. The date of its original composition is 1769; it was subsequently revised by its author in 1771 and 1772 and was first performed by an amateur group in Gijón in 1782 (Ceán, pp. 306-9). Its action is set in Gijón in the early eighth century, not long after the Moslem conquest of Spain. Munuza, a Christian traitor whom the Moors have made governor of Gijón, has sent the noble Pelayo, nephew of the last Visigothic king of Spain, to Cordova, so that in his absence he may be able, by persuasion or by force, to marry Pelayo's sister, Dosinda, who has rejected him before. Dosinda, brought to Munuza's palace, continues to refuse his offers; and when Rogundo, her betrothed, protests against the governor's actions, he is arrested. Although urged by his counselor Achmet to avoid stirring up the brave and fierce Asturians, Munuza determines that the marriage is to take place that very day. Again he tries to persuade Dosinda, offering her the crown which he plans to seize for himself while his Moslem masters are busy fighting in France; but both she and Rogundo remain inflexible. At this point Pelayo, whom Munuza had wanted delayed in Cordova, unexpectedly appears. Spurning both the offers and the threats of Munuza, he threatens him with rebellion in turn. He convinces some citizens to join him in an uprising, and they proclaim him their king. Together they free Dosinda, who is being taken to church for her marriage to the governor. In the ensuing battle, Pelayo is captured; and refusing still to consent to his sister's marriage, he is condemned to die. Suddenly, however, the Asturians succeed in freeing the prisoners. In a great fight on stage, Achmet tries to protect Munuza from the enraged Rogundo but unwittingly causes his master's death. As the governor is carried off to die, the rebels, knowing that Moorish troops will soon come to Gijón, decide to leave for the mountains, where they will continue the struggle.

This subject is drawn from sources which Jovellanos himself considers largely apocryphal (I, 74, n. 3; II, 510) and on which his imagination has further embroidered. The figure of Pelayo is historical, and the historical sequel to the imaginary episode is known to every Spaniard: Pelayo's victory over the Moslems at Covadonga, the beginning of the Reconquest, completed by Ferdinand and Isabella in Granada on January 2, 1492. Jovellanos play thus has a doubly patriotic appeal, Spanish and Asturian. In this it is characteristic of the Spanish Neoclassic tragedy, which consistently sought its subjects in the national past, particularly the medieval period, heroic, and also sufficiently remote to let the imagination play freely. Coupled with the historical research of such men as Father Enrique Flórez and with the publication of medieval Spanish poetry by Tomás Antonio Sánchez, this gives a picture of cultural continuity, in spite of the disputes about poetics, quite different from the systematic rejection of the national past, both historical and literary, which led the Neoclassicists of the French seventeenth century to people their stage with Versaillesque Greeks and Romans. Spain's Enlightenment and her Neoclassic literature have sometimes been falsely accused of being «antinational»; but the great minds of the period, while engaged in all kinds of reform, were devoted to the traditions of their country.

Jovellanos' Pelayo is written in eleven-syllable verses having assonant rhyme in the even-numbered lines, a form called romance heroico and employed in several Neoclassic tragedies. The weighty, solid, eleven-syllable verses produce the effect of seriousness and deliberateness appropriate to a tragedy, while the vowel rhymes, at a distance of twenty-two syllables, create a diluted musicality. The rhymed couplet, used by Cadalso in what seems to be imitation of the French playwrights, was never able to conquer the Spanish stage.

The action of Pelayo fits rather well within the limits of a single day, its antecedents being narrated in conversations between the main characters and their confidants, as is common in much Neoclassic theater. It takes place in different parts of Munuza's palace, adhering to a liberal interpretation of the unity of place. It concerns a single event, Munuza's attempt to force a marriage with Dosinda and the consequent beginning of Christian resistance to Moorish domination; and there is no secondary action whatsoever. The characters -of royal or noble blood, or, in Munuza's case, of elevated station- are of a rank deemed suitable for tragedy in Neoclassic dramatic theory.

That theory also demanded that the tragic hero be a mixture of good and evil, neither a wholly innocent victim nor a scoundrel fully deserving of his destruction. Only in this way can the desired effect of pity and terror be produced; and only in this way can the spectator feel that the tragic hero is worthy of compassion, and, at the same time, that his fate confirms the existence of moral laws whose fulfillment is also a source of satisfaction -a combination of sentiments which constitutes the tragic emotion.

Among the characters of Pelayo, the most complex and most interesting, though not the most admirable, is Munuza. He has betrayed his people and his religion and now rules over them for a foreign master. He claims, however, that Visigothic Spain was lost because of the wrongdoings of her monarchs (an allusion to the story of King Roderick and his sinful amours with La Cava), and that he has cast his lot with the conquerors only in order better to serve his people (I, 70b). Munuza has favored Pelayo, a descendant of the dethroned dynasty whom he has every reason to fear and whose friendship is not likely to meet with the approval of his masters. Pelayo himself, however, insists that he has never sought the friendship of Munuza; and he refuses to believe the motives which Munuza alleges for his treason. Munuza, then, occupies an ambiguous political position, for reasons which are also ambiguous or conflicting.

The same complexity underlies Munuza's effort to marry Dosinda. His passion is only in part amorous; his ambition leads him to covet a crown which, he believes, will fit his head more readily if he is married to a member of the royal house (I, 61b). His pride makes him persist in the effort once undertaken; since all know of his desires, retreat would be an intolerable humiliation (I, 62). In the final scenes, Munuza refuses to seek safety in flight; he is prepared to face Pelayo, preferring death to shame. Even as he dies, he calls Pelayo «traitor» and accuses an «unjust heaven» of his fate. He never admits that he has acted wrongly.

At times Munuza seems to be a strong man enslaved by his passions and thus a fit subject for tragedy, which, in Neoclassic theory, is to deal with just such cases. He ultimately dies because of his own wrongdoing, his attempt to force Dosinda to marry him; yet this wrongdoing is motivated by the passions of love and ambition, both, perhaps, culpable in this instance, yet neither of them low or abominable in itself. Not unreasonably was the play sometimes called Munuza. Pelayo, whose name Jovellanos uses as the title of his tragedy, does not appear on stage until past the middle of the third act (the play has five). Munuza fills the stage from beginning to end. Yet the «terror» which one feels at his fall is checked by the patriotic exultation of Pelayo and his men, and by doubts about how great Munuza was to begin with. The pity aroused by his fate is likewise limited, since the evil, or at least ambiguous, in him outweighs the good and noble.

Munuza, then, is not a successful Neoclassic hero. In more modern terms, however, he lives the tragedy of an essentially small man buffeted by events great beyond his capacity. He compares himself to a «fragile reed» that bends with the storm (I, 70b). He is not of noble Gothic blood, as Pelayo takes pains to remind him in his indignation at the proposed marriage: «You, in plebeian darkness born to serve / under my laws...» (I, 65a). Munuza «bends» with the Moslem invasion, and the situation in which he consequently finds himself breeds in him the ambition of a throne and of a royal bride. Yet he does not have the capacity to live with these circumstances. He does not act ruthlessly or rapidly enough to get his way; and even while he is trying to do so, he craves the approval of Dosinda, of Pelayo, and even of the Rogundo whom he is trying to replace in Dosinda's affections. But he fails in all his efforts at persuasion. He cannot overcome the stains of his birth and his betrayal of his country and his faith, and he is repeatedly spurned by those whose favor he implores.

In Jovellanos' eyes, Pelayo is probably the hero of the play. The spectator is to fear Pelayo's dishonor and even death; and the happy outcome of his difficulties does not disqualify him as a tragic hero in Neoclassic theory, which allows for «happy ending» tragedies. The important thing is that the vicissitudes of an elevated character arouse terror and pity in the spectator, regardless of whether the eventual solution is happy or, as is more customary, unhappy. Jovellanos would also expect the spectator to pity Pelayo in his difficulties; but this pity would be limited, especially today, when Pelayo's arrogance of caste would not arouse much sympathy.

Pelayo's difficulties stem from his friendship with Munuza, which encouraged the governor to consider a marriage with Dosinda as something not impossible. Why, however, did Pelayo allow this friendship to develop if he believed Munuza to be as vile as he now asserts him to be? Surely not for his own aggrandizement; yet if he accepted a vile friendship only in order to protect his people under Munuza's rule, is that not the same kind of reasoning with which Munuza justifies his collaboration with the Moors? And if Pelayo is really only now finding out the vileness of his friend, this vileness must consist chiefly of the personal affront of aspiring to marry Pelayo's sister, because all the previous actions of Munuza, including his betrayal, were known to Pelayo. Whatever the case, Pelayo's troubles are of ignoble origin.

Pelayo's harangue to his followers (I, 65b-66a) does not make him appear in a more favorable light. He warns them of the imminent loss of their liberty and paints for them a picture of their women being transported into the harems of the infidels, and their churches being turned into mosques. Yet in the past years of Moslem domination none of this has happened. Apart from these fancied terrors, then, the only concrete and immediate danger is Munuza's intended marriage with Dosinda, which Pelayo views as a double insult: a violation of an engagement and an affront to his royal blood. Historically, Pelayo is the greatest personage of the tragedy; but within the play, he is less interesting and even less noble than his antagonist.

Dosinda and Rogundo are undeveloped characters whose only discernible traits are inflexible fidelity to each other and a consequently inflexible resistance to the threats and blandishments of Munuza. Jovellanos' explanation of Rogundo reflects the theories of Montesquieu on the different forms of government and the influence of climate and other natural factors on social institutions: «This honorable delicacy with which Rogundo forestalls the tyrant's ideas, and the steadfastness with which he later rejects his offers, reveal the full character of a noble descendant of the Goths, born in a temperate climate and reared under a monarchical government [whose guiding principle, according to Montesquieu, is honor] and a martial legislation» (I, 76, n. 26). Of the four other named characters -and the small number of personages is in itself characteristic of the Neoclassic theater- three are confidants who, in conversations with their masters, explain the situation and its antecedents. Concerning one of these confidants, the Moor Achmet, Jovellanos makes the following remark, in keeping with the ideology of the Enlightenment: «We have given this personage, who is also episodic, an honest character, a proceeding which will perhaps surprise those who are used to seeing our playwrights always depict all the adherents of other religions in dark and abominable colors. But we have not wished to imitate them...» (I, 75, n. 12).

The plot of Pelayo follows the traditional Neoclassic line of development: exposition in the first act; increased difficulties in the second and third; a turn for the better in the third and fourth, as Pelayo returns and there is hope of rescuing Dosinda, and then a double turnabout in the fifth act, as the rebels first seem defeated, with Pelayo a prisoner, and then succeed after all, and Munuza is killed. This solution, resting on the outcome of an offstage battle, does not flow naturally from the moral qualities of the characters. It is contrived to let Pelayo go forward to those victories which the audience knows lie in store for him.

Although Pelayo has some stage indications calling for physical acts, largely by the women, who are to express sadness in their faces and postures and who on occasion are to fall and faint, its action advances primarily through dialogue. This dialogue tends to consist more of speeches than of unstrained conversation; but such artificiality is not necessarily a defect in Neoclassic drama, which strives, particularly in tragedy, for a stylized, often almost ritual, effect. There are a few lapses in the rhyme pattern, but the modern reader is perhaps more disturbed by the scarcity of moving or lyrical passages. Each speech has its function within the play; but few have the intrinsic merit of this description of the Asturians, no doubt inspired by the author's patriotic sentiments:

Well do you know these brave and fierce men's ardor.
Leaping and fighting are the sports of those
born midst the rocks. Sometimes they test their strength
casting with robust hand enormous trunks
as though they were a light and easy weight.
The beasts in the high mountains do they track,
then conquer them and take away their young.
As pastime always armed with knotty clubs,
habitual to them, on the foe they rush;
and to safeguard their liberty and laws,
rather would they choose death than a defeat.
Ferocious virtue, common to them all!

(I, 60b-61a)                

There are occasional lapses in diction, such as que puede ser que con el tiempo sea / de nuestra libertad to sangre el precio («for it may well be that your blood in-time / may come to be the price of liberty»), I, 60a.

Jovellanos claims that his Pelayo follows such French models as Racine and Voltaire rather than Greek or Latin tragedies (I, 51; Caso, Poesías, p. 110). Of the two French playwrights, Voltaire probably is more influential than Racine. It is hard to find tragic grandeur in Pelayo, but the appeal to patriotism is certainly useful in Jovellanos' eyes. In a verse prologue which he wrote for the 1782 performance of Pelayo, the author stresses his patriotic inspiration and the need to celebrate the glories of the national past, a need which he had also emphasized in his epistle to the Salamancans. He declares Pelayo to be the main figure of his play; and he evokes Greek and Latin models, with no mention now of the French (Caso, Poesías, pp. 200-203).

Pelayo was first performed in Gijón in 1782, and there was a performance in Madrid in 179219. According to Ceán (pp. 306-9), Jovellanos planned to publish the tragedy in 1773, when he wrote notes and a prose prologue for it; but the publication was not to take place in the author's lifetime. In 1814 there appeared a considerably altered version, entitled Munuza (I, 52, n. 1); but the first printing of the authentic text came in Volume VI of the Cañedo edition of Jovellanos' works (Madrid, 1832).

Translations and a Second Tragedy

About the same time that Jovellanos was writing Pelayo, he was also translating Racine's Iphigénie for performance in the royal theaters. These were established by Aranda in the same year that the minister met the young Asturian and favored him with a position in Seville. Olavide, Jovellanos' superior in Seville, was translating several plays for the same theaters; and Jovellanos naturally participated in the enterprise20. The text of his version, however, is not known to us. Subsequently, probably after 1775, Jovellanos began an original tragedy entitled Los españoles en Cholula (The Spaniards in Cholula), apparently dealing with the conquest of Mexico and thus in keeping with the author's ideas on a theater celebrating the glories of the national past. The text of this unfinished play is also lost (Ceán, pp. 311-12; Caso, Poesías, p. 444, n. 43). Although Jovellanos never wrote another tragedy, his interest in doing so remained alive; in 1795 he is still intrigued by the tragic possibilities of a Greek history that he is reading (D II, 191-92).

El delincuente honrado (The Honorable Culprit)

The autobiographical poem «Historia de Jovino» («History of Jovino») indicates that Jovellanos cultivated comedy before writing Pelayo (Caso, Poesías, p. 110 and n. 44), but either he destroyed his texts or they were otherwise lost . Jovellanos' only extant play other than Pelayo is often, albeit loosely, ascribed to the comic genre; but it is later than Pelayo.

This play is El delincuente honrado (The Honorable Culprit), written in 1773. Early in that year, in the circle of Don Pablo de Olavide in Seville, there arose a discussion concerning the merits of prose tragicomedy or sentimental comedy; and although, in keeping with sound Neoclassic doctrine, it was agreed that such plays were an unnatural mixture of the two standard genres, several of those present decided to write a play each in this new fashion. Jovellanos' contribution, The Honorable Culprit, was judged the best of all; and it is the only one to have survived. It was first performed in 1774 in one of the royal theaters; having been written in prose, it underwent versification at the hands of several volunteers and was translated into various foreign languages; and, after a pirated edition appeared in Barcelona, it was pseudonymously published by its author in Madrid in 1787 (Ceán, pp. 312-13; I, 77).

In The Honorable Culprit, Torcuato, a young man of obscure ancestry, intolerably provoked by a nobleman, had agreed to meet him in a secret and illegal duel, in the course of which the nobleman has literally rushed upon Torcuato's sword and died. Torcuato has subsequently married his victim's widow, Laura, encouraged by her father, who appreciates his virtues and, like Laura, knows nothing of Torcuato's participation in the duel. With the arrival of an investigating judge determined to discover the truth about the nobleman's death, the hero decides to flee; yet when his friend Anselmo is arrested for the crime, Torcuato confesses and, in keeping with the law, is condemned to death by the judge, Don Justo de Lara, who subsequently turns out to be his father. At the last minute, and after he has been led out to execution, Torcuato is saved by word that the king has commuted his sentence to banishment.

The play seems to be based on an actual event which occurred in Segovia, the scene of its action, in 175821. There are also thematic and onomastic similarities with an episode from Roman history narrated by Livy, in which Torquatus Manlius condemns his own son for violating a prohibition against single combat with the enemy22.

The action of Jovellanos' play is one and undivided, its purpose being «to show the harshness of the laws which inflict capital punishment on duelists without distinguishing between the provoked and the provoker» (I, 79). It takes some twenty-eight to thirty hours of fictional time; and, like Pelayo, it occurs in different parts of a single building, in this case the Alcázar of Segovia. The adherence to a strict concept of the unities is thus fairly unstrained, if one is willing to accept the severity of a legal process that discovers a culprit, sentences him the same day, and leads him out to his death the next morning. There are, however, other flaws in the play's verisimilitude. Is it really likely that Don Simón, a magistrate «of the old school», would actively promote the marriage of his daughter to a man of unknown family?23 Can one believe that Don Justo, knowing that Anselmo has gone to implore the mercy of the king, and with his own son's life at stake, would order Torcuato's execution without even waiting to hear the outcome of Anselmo's errand?24 These are problems brought about by the way Jovellanos conceives his plot, and which he has not taken the trouble to resolve.

The conflict in The Honorable Culprit is not an inner moral one, and Jovellanos' concern with other aspects of the play may explain his sometimes scant attention to the motivation of his characters. Torcuato prepares to leave his wife, stays and confesses his guilt in order to save his friend, accepts his condemnation, and accepts his suddenly-revealed father, all without inner struggle and always in total subjection to his ideas of duty. Similarly, Don Justo, although he considers the law on duels unjust, unhesitatingly condemns Torcuato. After he has discovered that the culprit is his son, he remains determined to carry out the law to its full extent. Virtue seems inevitably to triumph in these characters; and their virtue is of the inflexible kind that makes some Roman heroes so admirable and so inhuman. In Jovellanos' characters, the triumph of virtue is accompanied by full consciousness of the sacrifices involved; the author, however, does not use this consciousness to study an emotional process, but to enhance a pathos expressed in sentimental scenes and in the copious shedding of tears.

As I have written elsewhere,

the basic conflict of the play must [...] be sought on a level entirely different from the sentimental one [...] Jovellanos establishes a contrast between two concepts of the law, embodied in two magistrates, Don Justo and Don Simón, the corregidor. Don Justo is «a philosophical magistrate, that is, enlightened, virtuous, and humane», while Don Simón, «a slave to common prejudices, and endowed with a limited talent and education, ignorantly approves whatever the laws provide, and condemns without examining it whatever is contrary to them» (I, 79). In other words, Simón is unable to rise to a philosophic level on which he can judge not only individuals but also laws and institutions; his criteria are totally formalistic, and he accepts as valid whatever has been decreed by constituted authority. This position is in conflict with Justo's, since Justo not only judges individual guilt by legal standards, but also examines these standards themselves in the light of ethical principles. He is, therefore, both a minister and a critic of the society he serves; and through him Jovellanos expresses his demand for the adjustment of legal to ethical values. Don Simón is the foil to these opinions and consequently one of the major characters in the ideological struggle, although in the Torcuato-plot his role is secondary. His opinions and Justo's increase the piquancy of their situations. Simón finds that the man whose death he has so eagerly demanded is his son-in-law; Justo is forced to condemn his son in the name of a law which punishes alike the provoker and the provoked in a duel, and which, as a «philosophical magistrate», he considers unjust. Royal intervention supports Justo's philosophy of law and the lesson which Simón has been forced to learn; but let us note that the king is not moved by reason, but by the pathetic plea of Torcuato's friend, Anselmo. In a most «Enlightened» fashion, royal sentimentality tempers royal rigor.25

Jovellanos points out a discrepancy between the real standards of society and the laws which supposedly embody those standards. Through his characters, he admits that the prevalent concept of honor is «false», ignoring, as it does, a man's inner worth; but he claims that when such a concept is widely held and, in effect, is the fundamental principle of the monarchical government under which the characters live, the law must not punish men for obeying a code which society would punish them for violating. Accepting a duel should be no crime for the provoked party when his refusal would bring him the contempt of his fellow citizens and make him an outcast in their eyes. This argument can be found in Hobbes and in such writers of the Enlightenment as Montesquieu and the Italian legal reformer Cesare Beccaria, whom Jovellanos quotes at the end of his play26. The solution to the conflict in The Honorable Culprit is a deus -or rex- ex machina, dramatically as unmotivated as the ending of those Golden Age works in which the king appears to deal out justice and decree the necessary marriages, or, for that matter, as the ending of Pelayo.

Apart from any real event and from the writings of Enlightenment «philosophers», the sources of The Honorable Culprit must be sought in French dramatic theory and practice of the eighteenth century, especially the dramatic theories of Denis Diderot, developed in the Entretiens sur le Fils naturel (Conversations about The Natural Son) and De la Poésie dramatique (On Dramatic Poetry). In these works, Diderot explains what had already been practiced by him and other French playwrights, something which he calls a new theatrical genre, «the serious genre». Diderot had no aesthetic quarrel with most of the «rules» of Neoclassic theater, including the dramatic unities; but he wished to give theater a stronger social orientation. To this intent he proclaimed new rules of his own. The new genre was to deal with important subjects in simple and realistic plots, carrying on the action by means of the principal personages and dispensing with the valets so important in French comedy. It would scorn sensationalism and laughter and seek rather to work on the sentiments of its audience through moving scenes produced by the physical arrangement of the actors (tableaux). Pantomime, or the development of the action through gesture and movement, was to enhance the realism and, in some instances, the sentimental force of the play. At all times was there to be a strongly moral orientation. Finally, the drama would be based on social condition, not on character27.

Specifically, Diderot recommends that «someone set out to present on the stage the condition of the judge. Let him develop his plot in as interesting a manner as it allows... Let his man be forced by the functions of his calling , either to betray the dignity and sanctity of his office, and to be dishonored in the eyes of others and his own, or to sacrifice his own passions, his tastes, his fortune, his birth, his wife, and his children; and then anyone who cares to may say that the proper and serious drama lacks warmth, color and force»28.

Jovellanos' play follows these suggestions and rules. It deals with important subjects, intensely debated even today: not only the justness or unjustness of laws, but also the duty of the citizen (Torcuato) and the magistrate toward a law which they consider unjust. The plot, though not very simple, is more so than that of any comedy of intrigue; and in spite of lapses in verisimilitude, it is realistic in its precisely-described setting, in dealing with a real and not a farfetched problem, in using ordinary characters, and in using prose, albeit a sometimes rhythmic, quasi poetic prose29. The action is carried on among the principal characters, with next to no occasion for laughter. Furthermore, «the movements of Torcuato in the first act, indicative of his troubled state of mind; the tears; the groupings and movements of characters in the fourth and fifth acts, with Torcuato in chains, in the dark prison area; the pleas and posturings of Laura; and the final release and embraces-all develop plot through action, movement, pantomime, and set up scenes de signed to be visually impressive: tableaux» (Polt, «Delincuente», p. 181). There is no need to underline the moral orientation of the play. As for the role of social condition,

Don Justo seems made to comply with Diderot's request; his conflict is precisely that envisaged by the latter: the human emotions of the man opposed by the sacred obligations of the judge. Justo lives fully his social role, his condition, that of judge; hence the poignancy of his being compelled to condemn his own long-lost son. But the same importance of condition is also to be found in the characterization of Torcuato, with a slightly more complex grouping of roles: husband, friend, virtuous citizen, and criminal. The play's title indicates at once that the conflict of the play rests on the paradoxical nature of this combination. [...] The characters do not seem to have any core of personality; rather they slip suddenly and sharply from one role into another, always fitting perfectly the preconceived norms of that role. Their personalities have facets, but no depth; like the title, they remain at the stage of unresolved paradox. It would seem that Jovellanos, moving from the abstract plane to the concrete, set up opposing concepts (husband, judge, father, etc.) and gave them names, rather than imagining the person and moving outward from a well-defined personality. The modern reader, always interested in psychological penetration, will find this unsatisfactory; Jovellanos' audience, far less interested in psychology than in the sociology that passed as «philosophy», apparently approved. Once more, what may to us seem a defect in the play should rather be viewed as conscious conformity with a dramatic theory, Diderot's.

(Ibid., p. 182)                

Although author and critics vacillated concerning the genre of the play, The Honorable Culprit is, in fact, a Spanish representative of the middle-class theater which the French called drame.

Besides providing the theoretical basis of the play, Diderot and other French authors of the same tendency, writing in the 1750's, 1760's, and early 1770's, are also the sources of several details of plot and expression in The Honorable Culprit. In addition to Diderot's Le Fils naturel (The Natural Son), one must consider plays by Michel-Jean Sedaine, Sébastien Mercier, and Fenouillot de Falbaire, whose L'Honnéte criminel (The Honest Criminal) bears a title mirrored in The Honorable Culprit. Both plays, however, like the anonymous Honnéte voleur (The Honest Thief), may simply testify to the popularity of paradoxical titles, contemporaneous with the literary rehabilitation of the criminal30.

The Honorable Culprit achieved instant and long-lasting popularity. It seems to have been translated into French, English, German, and Italian; at least the Italian, and possibly the German and English versions also, were printed (Caso, «Delincuente», p. 105 and n. 4). In 1796 two hundred copies of the play were sent to the Philippines (D II, 245). An American edition was published in New York in 1829. Performances in Madrid were fairly frequent from 1791 to 1819 (Coe, passim), and in the 1830's the play is mentioned as still current, in articles by Ramón de Mesonero Romanos («La comedia casera» [«The Amateur Performance»]) and Mariano José de Larra («Yo quiero ser cómico» [«I Want to be an Actor»]). Cándido Nocedal (born in 1821) saw it performed in his childhood (I, xi); and though by 1845 it had disappeared from the Spanish stage31, this is a very respectable three score and ten years after its composition. Its vogue continued in Spanish America, where it was performed as late as 185232.

Furthermore, The Honorable Culprit, though the best known, is not the only specimen of the new genre. Cándido María Trigueros, a very minor literary figure of the latter eighteenth century, composed Los menestrales (The Workmen), 1781, a social drama highly praised by Jovellanos (II, 163b). In 1796 Juan Pablo Forner published and presented on the stage La escuela de la amistad o el filósofo enamorado (The School of Friendship, or The Philosopher in Love), the prologue to which defends serious comedy. Forner's verse play abounds in pantomime and is adequately supplied with tears. Even the dramatic school of Comella, usually thought of as the degenerate rear guard of the Golden Age tradition, produced a number of such plays, including two imitations of the Culprit by Antonio Valladares y Sotomayor33. The outstanding Neoclassical comediographer, Leandro Fernández de Moratín, is indebted to the new school and to its pioneering play, The Honorable Culprit. His masterpiece, A Maiden's Consent (1801), has a strong social thesis, like the new dramas (see Caso, «Delincuente», p. 123); furthermore, it is a prose play in which the conflict is resolved by a sentimental virtue that finds full expression in the tableau of the last scene.

There are resemblances between Jovellanos' play and the Romantic theater: the recurrent sentimentality, the use of prose, the hero's view of himself as the victim of a hostile fate; yet Romantic theater lacked the social orientation of the eighteenth century drama. While the latter made certain formal innovations so that it would better serve its social role of useful instruction, Romanticism quarreled with Neoclassicism on aesthetic grounds, something that did not occur to Diderot and his followers. There is greater similarity between the eighteenth-century drama and the «serious» or «high» comedy of the second half of the nineteenth century, represented in Spain by such playwrights as Adelardo López de Ayala and Manuel Tamayo y Baus; but it is not clear what relationship, if any, there is between these two dramatic schools.

Other Dramatic Efforts

Although Jovellanos continued to take an active interest in the theater, no text remains that would allow us to judge his efforts. He planned a comedy which, using humble characters in an Asturian setting, would deal with marriage between partners of widely disparate ages, the theme repeatedly and successfully used by Leandro de Moratín; but we have only the résumé of this play and the outlines of some of its scenes (Caso, «Delincuente», pp. 131-32, n. 26). Jovellanos' diary of the 1790's refers to «El regocijo» («The Rejoicing»), «Los alumnos» («The Pupils»), and El agradecimiento (Gratitude), all of them, it seems, brief allegorical playlets related to the life of the Royal Asturian Institute. The manuscript of the second was preserved in Gijón but presumably destroyed during the Civil War in 1936; according to one authority, its author was not Jovellanos34. The third was apparently printed in Oviedo35. From Jovellanos' diary it is clear only that he made corrections and improvements in these small pieces and was involved in their performance, but not that he was their author. Among Don Gaspar's extant works, a fragment of a dialogue on economic subjects, while composed to be read, also uses the dramatic form (V, 146 ff.).

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