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Chapter IV

The Arts: Historical and Critical Writings

Principal Works

His diary shows Jovellanos to be a constant observer of land scapes and of architectural and artistic monuments; and he deals with aesthetic, and particularly literary, questions in letters and numerous other works. Important among these are the Memoria para el arreglo de la policía de los espectáculos y diversiones públicas, y sobre su origen en España (Report on the Regulation of Spectacles and Public Entertainments and on their Origin in Spain), 1790, Reglamento para el Colegio de Calatrava (Regulations for the College of Calatrava), 1790, Tratado teórico práctico de enseñanza (Theoretical-Practical Treatise on Education), 1802, and Curso de humanidades castellanas (Course in Spanish Humanities), 1794?, which, though of doubtful author ship, reflects Jovellanos' pedagogical and aesthetic ideas.

Jovellanos also devoted a number of longer essays specifically to art and architecture. Shortly after his arrival in Madrid he read his Elogio de las bellas artes (In Praise of the Fine Arts), 1781, which traces the development of the arts in Spain from Classical antiquity until the eighteenth century. Adhering closely to Neoclassical canons of taste, Jovellanos sees in Antiquity an aesthetic high point which, after periods of corruption, art seeks to regain. Toward the end of his Madrid period, Jovellanos wrote his Elogio de Ventura Rodríguez (Eulogy of Ventura Rodríguez), 1788, sketching the life of the celebrated eighteenth-century architect. In the author's view of architectural history, Rodríguez is a restorer of good taste after the corruption of the Baroque. This Eulogy was published in 1790 with twenty notes, more extensive than the text and of greater general interest, elaborating the outline of architectural history given in the 1781 essay on the fine arts.

Although Jovellanos' interest in the arts and architecture was lifelong, his writings on these subjects are most abundant between 1805 and 1808, during the time of his captivity in the castle of Bellver, on Majorca. Three factors spurred this activity: abundant leisure, the need for distraction, and the desire to help the art historian Ceán Bermúdez, to whom these writings are addressed. The Memoria del Castillo de Bellver, descripción histórico-artística, or simply Descripción del Castillo de Bellver (Essay on the Castle of Bellver: an Historical-Artistic Description, or Description of the Castle of Bellver), deals with the castle outside Palma and the geology, flora, fauna, and popular festivals of the surrounding region, besides evoking scenes from Bellver's past. In an appendix, Memorias del castillo de Bellver (Memoir of the Castle of Bellver), we follow the history of the building from its foundation in the early fourteenth century until the mid-eighteenth century.

The Descripción panorámica del castillo de Bellver (A Panorama from the Castle of Bellver) observes the landscape from the homage tower of the castle, a viewpoint to which the author alludes frequently. Two essays, printed as appendices to the Description of the Castle of Bellver, are really appendices to the Panorama, because they deal in detail with buildings that the Panorama views from a distance: the convents of St. Dominic and St. Francis and the lonja, or mercantile exchange, of Palma. Both appendices consist of architectural and historical notes in which Jovellanos' admiration for the fifteenth-century Gothic lonja and for its architect, Guillermo Sagrera, is particularly evident. Confined to Bellver, Jovellanos employed an assistant to study these other buildings and to copy relevant documents, while he read Majorcan histories on the period of their construction (I, 431b, 433a).

The interesting essay Sobre la arquitectura inglesa y la llamada gótica (On English and So-Called Gothic Architecture), also known as Carta de Philo Ultramarino (Letter from Philo Ultra marinus, that is, from a Friend Beyond the Sea -Jovellanos himself, on Majorca), gives a résumé of Jean-Louis Ferri de Saint Constant's book on Londres et les anglais (London and the English), Paris, 1804, followed by Jovellanos' own reflections on English and Gothic architecture, picturesque beauty, landscape gardening, and English aesthetics and art. Finally, the Descripción de la catedral de Palma (Description of the Cathedral of Palma) is, more than a description of this Gothic edifice, a history of its foundation, construction, patrons, and architects.

General Considerations

Jovellanos' aesthetic ideas evolved with the trends of his time and were, to some extent, in their forefront. One of the principal questions which concerned Neoclassic aesthetics was the relationship between art and nature, taking «nature» to mean the world as created by God, as opposed to the work created by the artist. «Nature», then, is «reality»; and art, for the Neoclassicist, was imitation of nature according to principles derived from nature itself, codified in rules, and buttressed by the authority of the Ancients. As one of the leading thinkers of the Enlightenment, Condillac, put it, «Art is nothing but the collection of the rules which we need for learning to do something» (L'Art d'écrire, Œuvres, VII [Paris, 1798], 390). For Jovellanos also, art is «the collection of rules established for doing something well» (D I, 375). These rules and principles, he believed, are «taken from nature, in which are found all models of the sublime, the beautiful, and the graceful» (I, 497b); and additional guidance comes from observation of how the Ancients imitated nature (I, 362, n. 35). «Idealistic» art, which «imitates» the constructs or ideas of the mind rather than any real objects existing in nature, can therefore never be fully successful, because it departs from the models of nature. Medieval art, for instance, could not progress, Jovellanos believed, because it did not follow «a fixed and definite system of proportions» (I, 352a), that is, the proportions of nature. Jovellanos rejects what strikes us as modern in much medieval painting: a system of proportions that reflects not natural facts but concepts (a king is bigger than a servant), and the juxtaposition in the same pictorial space of scenes widely separated in space or time.

Aesthetic pleasure, according to Jovellanos, springs from the perception of perfection. The pleasure to be derived from art is therefore greater than that which can be derived from nature, because the work of art involves two separate perfections, that of the object imitated and that of the imitation (I, 265b).

The enjoyment of natural beauty presented a theoretical problem for Neoclassicism. Nature had no discernible rules and was often asymmetrical or apparently chaotic. Why is a gnarled, seemingly ill-proportioned tree, for instance, pleasing to the eye? Why are some faces attractive even though they do not adhere to the established canons of beauty? Feijóo attacked this problem in an article entitled «El no sé qué» («The Certain Something»), explaining that beauty which seems to defy the «rules of art» stems from adherence to a superior order of rules not discernible by ordinary men. Symmetry, proportion, and order thus continue to be the guarantees of aesthetic pleasure; but genius, and even more the supreme genius of God as manifested in nature, discovers this harmony, perhaps intuitively, on a level beyond the comprehension of common mortals, though the results are not beyond their appreciation.

The question increased in importance as the eighteenth century drew to a close. Sentiment came to be prized as highly as reason, spontaneity as highly as discipline, and the charming disorder of nature as highly as an ordered rational art. In 1782, Jovellanos asked: «And are there fools art's beauties to prefer, / from you, oh Nature, never copied well, / to you yourself, their source and sacred pattern?» (Caso, Poesías, p. 195). On Majorca, twenty years later, even while exalting the unique pleasure to be derived from art, he shows an increasing awareness of paradoxically «irregular» beauty in both nature and art, and in the blending of the two. He enjoys viewing the architectural monuments of Palma with a mind free of the rules of art (I, 391); and he appreciates a scene of ruins and decay which would in future years appeal to the Romantics: «The vegetable kingdom produced by the castle, if not more fertile [than the animal kingdom], is more varied and noteworthy; and it both speeds its decay and makes its appearance more pleasing and picturesque» (I, 397b).

During this period Jovellanos came into contact with the English school of picturesque beauty represented by William Gilpin, which sought to combine nature with art and to give a place not only to the well-proportioned and conventionally pleasing, but also, to the wild, the rare, the horrid, and the sublime. This aesthetics manifested itself especially in the English garden or park, planned to produce sentiments and emotions in the beholder, and thus differing from the geometric French garden, abstract, rationally perceived rather than «felt». Jovellanos now criticized both of the dominant aesthetic schools of his time. The naturalists could not surpass the beauty of the nature they sought to imitate (the beauty of the imitation itself seems now to be forgotten). On the other hand, the idealists imitated the Ancients rather than nature and therefore lacked force and truth in their works. The modern English, however, in Jovellanos' view, went beyond these schools. They had a broader concept of beauty than did the Ancients, who largely confined themselves to the animated human figure. They recognized, both in the Ancients and in nature, different kinds of beauty; and not content with copying nature, they improved it. The English, therefore, seemed to Jovellanos the people most likely to reach perfection in the arts36.

An approach to Pre-Romantic aesthetics, while unformulated, is already discernible in the scenes of gloom and horror of the epistle to the Salamancans and the «Epistle from Fabio to Anfriso». During his Majorcan years, Jovellanos is pleased to see it acquire form and formulation in the work of Gilpin and in the English garden-park, yet he does not abandon his fundamental utilitarianism. Beauty, he believes, should be combined with usefulness; and of the two, usefulness, as in the construction of roads, bridges, schools, etc., is the more important (I, 389-90; cf. V, 399b-400a). Nor does Jovellanos ever come to an unequivocal decision between his Neoclassic respect for art and his clear sentimental preference for nature.

Architectural Periods

Jovellanos' view of historical periods in art reflects the evolution of his aesthetic thinking in the context of his fundamental and permanent Classical bias. For our author, Greek architecture is the nec plus ultra of taste, even after he has learned to appreciate the Gothic; and Roman architecture is only a corruption of the Greek (I, 351, 377a, n. 6; V, 377a). Moorish architecture, which lies outside the Classical-Renaissance-Neoclassic mainstream, is largely ignored. In the 1780's Jovellanos praises the elegance of the Moorish buildings of Cordova, Granada, and Seville (I, 364-65; II, 287a); yet his account of the development «of the fine arts in Spain from their origin to their present state» mentions, of all the Moorish monuments, only the Alhambra, and that in passing (I, 354b).

The Classical bias of Jovellanos also shows in his dislike for heavy ornamentation. Hence comments such as «Its architecture is Plateresque, but graceful», a grudging concession which implies the essential gracelessness of this charming style (D II, 85; cf. I, 386b, n. 12). No wonder, then, that the Baroque architect Churriguera is deemed a «heresiarch of good taste» (II, 288a). Jovellanos, like many of his contemporaries, considers the Baroque a corruption of all the arts, a contagion of affectation and triviality that entered Spain from Italy (I, 357b-58a, 372a, 387a, n. 13). (Italians, of course, claimed that the corruption originated in Spain). Conversely, Jovellanos admires the grandiosely severe: the «marvel» of the Escorial (I, 353a; IV, 251b) and the architecture of Christopher Wren, whose St. Paul's Cathedral he compares to the Roman St. Peter's (V, 371 b).

Most interesting of Jovellanos' various judgments on historical periods, however, are his opinions on Gothic architecture, the appreciation of which was to play a large role in the rise of Romanticism. In 1781 Jovellanos explains the Gothic style as a Germanic imitation of Byzantine architecture. He finds it defective and artless, that is, not adjusted to the Neoclassic rules of proportion; yet he discerns a crude but interesting cultural rebirth in the thirteenth century, especially in church architecture: «The minds of those artists seem to have devoted all their knowledge to inventing a dwelling worthy of the Supreme Being. When man enters one of those temples, he feels himself penetrated by a deep and silent reverence, which captures his spirit and gently leads it to the contemplation of the eternal truths» (I, 351). In 1795, at the sight of the Cathedral of León, Jovellanos exclaims: «What a beautiful, magnificent, sublime temple!» (D II, 28). The religious awe produced by medieval, and particularly Gothic, churches, impressed Catholic and conservative Romantics in the style of Chateaubriand, and texts similar to those quoted abound in the early nineteenth century. Nevertheless, Jovellanos' Neoclassic eye contradicts his Pre-Romantic heart and continues to find the Gothic cathedrals overloaded with useless detail and ornament, and devoid of proper proportions.

In 1786 Jovellanos puts forward the conjecture, formed, according to him, «long ago», that Gothic architecture descends from the Arab (I, 368a), which, in turn, he had earlier deemed an imitation of Byzantine architecture (I, 351b; cf. II, 286b-87a). The most extensive treatment of this question is found in the Eulogy of Ventura Rodríguez (I, 371b, and 378b-86, nn. 9-11). Here Jovellanos speaks of the «corruption» of ancient architecture at the hands of Persians, Arabs, and Byzantines. The result is Gothic architecture, which, according to our author, appears in Europe suddenly and in full perfection at the time of the crusades. Working with an imprecise chronology and failing to see the transition from the Romanesque style to the Gothic, Jovellanos links the elements of the latter to the architecture found by the crusaders in the Near East and to their own military constructions. He stresses the harmony between the characteristics of this architecture and those of the age that produced it, martial, gallant, and superstitious. He recognizes in the Gothic style a striving for daring, delicacy, and profusion; but he also sees in it an example of the aberrations of genius when inspired only by capricho, that is, unguided by the reason which for the Neoclassicist is essential to art and without which the mind produces only monsters, as Goya shows in one of those etchings entitled, precisely, Caprichos.

In his account of Gothic architecture, Jovellanos also recognizes the historical value of «Asturian architecture», the Pre-Romanesque monuments like San Miguel de Lillo and Santa María de Naranco, outside Oviedo. Although the «Arabic» traces which he sees in them may actually be remnants of the Visigothic style, copied by, not derived from, the Arabs, Jovellanos senses the influences which underlie the later mudéjar architecture, built by Moorish artisans for Christian masters.

During his imprisonment on Majorca, Jovellanos still maintains the theory of the origins of the Gothic style which he had developed in the Eulogy of Ventura Rodríguez (V, 375 ff.). He still finds it difficult to approve completely of this style, but he is increasingly attracted and impressed by it. Thus he finds that the cathedral of Palma, «without being beautiful or elegant, has about it something great and majestic which surprises and particularly delights the eye» (V, 361a). In the lonja he recognizes a «great and strange» beauty (V, 363b). The contemplation of the castle of Bellver leads him to evoke animated scenes of siege, defense, and peaceful festivities in its halls. At sunset, Bellver recalls an enchanted castle from the heroic fantasies of Ariosto (I, 395, 398b-99a). These and similar appreciations show a continued reluctance to credit the medieval buildings with those qualities (beauty, elegance) which, for the Neoclassicist, are inseparable from reason, order, and restraint, along with an increasing recognition of those qualities more linked to emotion (grandeur, majesty, «strange» beauty). Thus Jovellanos came to abandon the opinion, sometimes expressed also by him, that the Middle Ages were a time only of darkness (I, 319a). He came to appreciate the Christian and chivalric ideals of that epoch, which Romanticism was to exploit as literary themes.

Jovellanos must have approved of the anti-Baroque trend in the architecture of his own time but, strangely enough, he has left us little testimony of his interest in his contemporaries in this field, other than Ventura Rodríguez. On the other hand, many diary entries and more extensive writings witness to his lasting and lively concern with the architecture of the past and the conservation and comprehension of its monuments.


Jovellanos approached painting with the same principles that governed his view of architecture. Thus he found medieval paintings, beginning with the thirteenth century, occasionally pleasing; but, as we have seen, he missed in them that exact proportion which, in his opinion, can alone yield a satisfying harmony (I, 351b-52a). He hailed Michelangelo as the «main restorer» of the arts, studied and surpassed by Raphael (I, 352a, 370).

Among the Spanish masters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Jovellanos appreciates Zurbarán (I, 354a) but reserves his most fervent admiration for Velázquez and Murillo. He praises Velázquez' technique, his faithful imitation of models taken from nature, and his ability to create illusion, perhaps in such works as The Spinners and The Meninas (I, 356). And enthusiastically he exclaims: «How can I omit Murillo, the gentle and delicate Murillo, whose skillful brush gave to canvas all the charms of beauty and of gracefulness? Oh great Murillo! In your works I have believed the miracles of art and talent; I have seen the atmosphere, the atoms, the air, the dust, the movement of the waters, and even the tremulous glow of the morning light painted in them» (I, 354a).

As is to be expected, Jovellanos has little use for El Greco, the very model of an «idealistic» rather than a «naturalistic» painter. He credits him with stimulating the arts and with defending the dignity of painting as an art, not a trade; but he finds his style «dry» and «disagreeable» and is repelled by what he considers the Cretan's extravagances (I, 332b, 353, 357a, 358a).

Jovellanos befriended his contemporary Goya, admiring his «skillful and vigorous brush» (I, 388b, n. 16); and Goya is the author of the best-known portrait of Jovellanos, one which shows him seated at a table, resting his head on his hand in a somewhat melancholy pose37. Like all of his age, Jovellanos pays tribute to the eighteenth-century painter and aesthetic theorist Anton Rafael Mengs. Born in Aussig an der Elbe (or Ústí nad Labem) in Bohemia, Mengs came to be the court painter of Charles III of Spain; and a sizeable collection of his work can be seen in the Prado Museum in Madrid and in several royal palaces in and around the Spanish capital. Although now almost forgotten, Mengs had enormous influence and prestige in the eighteenth century, and particularly in Spain. Jovellanos, who in principle rejected «idealism» in art and favored the «naturalism» of Velázquez, nevertheless eulogized the genius of the «idealist» Mengs a few years after his death, calling him «a gigantic artist, rising above and dazzling the rest, [...] the son of Apollo and Minerva, the philosopher-painter, the master, the benefactor and lawgiver of the arts». Not only are Mengs's paintings, according to Jovellanos, «divine», but his writings are «the catechism of good taste»38.

Over the years Jovellanos formed a valuable collection of drawings and preliminary sketches by numerous well-known painters. This testimony to his artistic taste, priceless for the student of painting, was stored, along with Jovellanos' papers, in the Royal Asturian Institute in Gijón; and, having been transferred, along with them, to the building that also housed the Simancas Barracks, it was destroyed in the Republican bombardment of that Nationalist stronghold at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. While on Majorca, Jovellanos gave detailed advice and criticism to the painter Fray Manuel Bayeu (II, 155 ff.), showing considerable detailed knowledge of the art and craft of painting. After his return to the mainland he spent some time in the house of his friend Juan Arias de Saavedra in Jadraque (Province of Guadalajara). There one can still see a room decorated with frescoes which are said to be the work of Jovellanos. These paintings, not devoid of charm but, on the whole, lacking outstanding artistic merit, must have some connection with Don Gaspar's stay, since his intervention would best explain the fact that one of them depicts the castle of Bellver; but in view of the absolute silence of Jovellanos' diary, in general so detailed, with respect to any activity of this kind, at this time of his life or any other, I doubt that his hand was the sole or even principal one39.

Literature in General

Jovellanos' critical and theoretical opinions about literature are to some extent implicit in his creative work, which we have already examined; but they are also explicit in letters, diary, discourses, and pedagogical writings.

The basis of Jovellanos' view of literature is Neoclassical, Horatian. Our author would have students memorize Horace's Art of Poetry and his first epistle of Book II, «for they suffice to form a kind of code of good taste»40. The Course in Spanish Humanities, derived from Hugh Blair's Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres and of suspect authorship (Caso, Poesías, p. 17, n. 1), nevertheless reflects the outlines of Jovellanos' views, even if not the details of wording. It adheres firmly to the Horatian principle of utile dulci as the dual justification of literature: to please and move the reader or spectator is the principal or immediate aim of the literary work of art, while useful instruction is the secondary, indirect, or ultimate aim (I, 137b, 142a). Precision and clarity are the stylistic ideals; literary language should be «like a clear river, where one can see as far as the bottom» (I, 114a). In other words, the language should not itself attract attention, as occurs in Baroque poetry and prose; it should faithfully convey the author's thought, the beauty of the work consisting more of the scenes and actions described than of the language used to describe them.

In Pre-Romantic fashion, the Course concerns itself with the sublime and finds it particularly in the mysterious. The sublime, we read, is not only the large or the high, but also the roar of wind or thunder and the flash of lightning. «Among the great and sublime objects [we must include] the frightful noise of waters plunging from a great height, a very dense darkness, the deep silence of a forest or a lonely countryside, the majestic sound of a great bell, especially in the midst of the silence or calm of the night, and, in general, many nocturnal scenes...» (I, 128b). In this respect the Course reflects what Jovellanos had already practiced in the «Epistle from Fabio to Anfriso».

As Professor Russell P. Sebold has made clear, by «imitation» the Neoclassicists did not understand simple copying, but rather an author's accepting an inspiration and trying to follow it and even to beat it at its own game41. It is in this sense that Vergil imitated Homer, who was for him both a model and a rival to be outdone. In 1793 Jovellanos challenges this doctrine, though, since his considerations are addressed to the author of a deplorable imitation of Don Quixote, they may above all be an attempt to soften the blow of Jovellanos' negative reaction. Jovellanos claims that imitation limits the imagination, and that imitation of great models, in which failure is so easy and so obvious, is especially dangerous. Even a mediocre degree of originality is to be prized more highly than imitation (IV, 183, 186b).

In another break with strict Neoclassicism, which demands careful separation of genres and of the different arts, Jovellanos, while on Majorca, expresses his admiration for English descriptive literature. The English, he believes, have successfully combined the study of the fine arts and literature; and their writings are consequently filled with descriptions of objects and actions that charm and move the heart (V, 379b). Jovellanos values the sentimental success of this literature above formal perfection or adherence to Neoclassic rules.

A few years later, however, Jovellanos writes that the purpose of poetry is «to please and instruct by means of figurative language subjected to measure and harmony, and embellished with fictions and agreeable descriptions» (I, 270a). His concept of literature remains basically Neoclassic, though at various times he -emphasizes his appreciation of sentiment, originality, and other factors which were to become essentials of the subsequent Romantic creed.


Jovellanos believes that poetry must steer between the vicious extremes of prosaicism and bombast. He sees prosaicism as the flaw of an overly rational poetry. The poet must use imagination more than reason in order to create a graphic language. In other words, poetry must speak primarily to the senses, as it does in Jovellanos' own more successful poems. Bombast, on the other hand, results from excessive reliance on the imagination in disregard of the musical qualities of poetry, essential for Jovellanos (I, 247a).

Poetry seeks to please and artfully to arrange the inventions of the imagination, but these essential aims can also be accomplished by prose. Jovellanos therefore accepts the existence of poetic prose, relegating meter to the status of a secondary characteristic of poetry (I, 137b-38a, 247b). Furthermore, both poetry and verse are to be differentiated from rhyme. Although rhyme «unquestionably adds great beauty to poetry», Jovellanos finds it difficult to adapt his ideas to its demands (II, 315b; D II, 148; cf. I, 140b). His best poems are all written in blank hendecasyllables.

Jovellanos values epic and didactic poetry above the lyrical and, especially, the erotic; but he finds these genres appropriate enough for youth and grants them the merit of serving as practice for higher forms (II, 273a; Caso, Poesías, pp. 90, 117 ff.). Although he did not himself make the «laws» and discoveries of natural science the subject of his verses, as did other poets of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, his prose on occasion shows his appreciation of the poetic qualities of science (I, 339b-40a).

In 1773, Jovellanos recommends a number of authorities for the study of poetics, including Aristotle, Horace, and Jouvancy, a French Jesuit whose work is «the best thing I have read» (II, 167a). Luzán is strikingly absent from this list; but after his Poetics was reedited in 1789, he holds an important place among Jovellanos' authorities, especially as a guide to models of good writing (Calatrava, p. 144; 1, 246b-47a). Like Luzán and most of his own contemporaries, Jovellanos believes that Spanish poetry reached its high point in the sixteenth century, under the influence of the Classics and the Italians of the Renaissance, themselves heavily influenced by the Classics. In that age flourished most of the poets whom Jovellanos especially recommends: Garcilaso de la Vega, Herrera, Rioja, Ercilla, Balbuena, the Argensolas, «and above all, Fray Luis de León himself». From earlier periods, Jovellanos appreciates Juan de Mena and Jorge Manrique. After the zenith of the sixteenth century, poets ceased to exercise the necessary restraints; and their unbridled imaginations led to the corruption of taste which Jovellanos finds in the verses of Lope de Vega and Góngora. Still, he does not condemn all the works of these poets; Góngora was read in the Royal Asturian Institute, probably in his ballads, which throughout the Neoclassic period stood as an example of what the great Baroque poet, could achieve when he resisted the aesthetic current of his time. In the latter eighteenth century Jovellanos finds signs of a poetic renovation which makes him optimistic about the future. This becomes plain in the Theoretical-Practical Treatise on Education, where Meléndez, Leandro F. de Moratín, and the young poets Cienfuegos and Quintana are placed in the category of Homer, Horace, Vergil, Milton, and Racine (I, 247b; D II, 315; Calatrava, p. 137; Caso, Poesías, pp. 92-94).


Jovellanos considered the drama potentially superior to the other arts because it combines several of them, and of great moral importance because of its direct access to a mass public (I, 226a, 495). Ideally, the theater should inculcate principles of religion, citizenship, family obligations, and friendship; and in order to make sure that it does, it must be controlled by the state, either directly or through especially created academies (I, 496a, 498b-99a).

According to Jovellanos, who, except in The Honest Culprit, remained faithful to Neoclassic dramatic standards, «Lope [de Vega] filled our theaters with irregular and monstrous plays which banished order, truth, and decorum from the stage» (I, 358b). Lope «finally brought comedy to that point of artifice and ostentation in which ignorance saw the height of its perfection, and sound criticism, the seeds of the depravation and ruin of our stage» (L, 489b). The works of Calderón de la Barca and Moreto, like those of other playwrights of the Golden Age, are similarly defective when judged by Neoclassic standards; yet Jovellanos believed that they would continue to please the public. He condemns the religious allegorical autos sacramentales, prohibited by the government of Charles III, as full of foolish and indecent matter contrary to their supposed edifying aims. Jovellanos' judgment on the plays of his own day is not much more favorable. Unlike some of the other arts, drama does not seem to him to be progressing (I, 488-90).


The prose writers whom Jovellanos admires belong, like his model poets, to the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Among others, they include the historian Juan de Mariana, the religious authors Fray Luis de Granada and Fray Luis de León (previously cited as a poet), and Cervantes (Calatrava, p. 137; D I, 453). Neoclassic literary theorists usually ignored prose fiction, which was considered little more than artless ramblings of the fantasy. Something like this view underlies Torcuato's exclamation in The Honorable Culprit (I, 99b): «Everything that is happening seems like a novel (novela); I am stunned and hardly believe what I see with my own eyes». Novela here suggests an extravagant tale, as it still did as late as the mid-nineteenth century. Jovellanos explains that this genre originally sought only to amuse, thus falling short of the dual aim of literature as Neoclassicism understood it. A new and more dangerous element, however, a new morality, is to be found in modern French productions. The potentially sound moral influence of the novel is shown by the examples of Samuel Richardson and other English authors; but their works also must be purged of passages offensive to Spanish political and moral tenets (II, 535b-36a).

Like most critics of the eighteenth century, Jovellanos considers Don Quixote as primarily a satire of chivalric ideas (I, 485b). He criticizes Cervantes for setting his tale in his own time, which, in Jovellanos' opinion, destroys its verisimilitude. Like Neoclassic tragedy, fiction, in order to be credible, must be removed from the reader's everyday world either in time (the historical fiction to be cultivated later by the Romantics) or in space, like the Renaissance epics of Ercilla and Camões (IV, 183b-84b).

Nature and Landscape

No discussion of Jovellanos' artistic and aesthetic ideas would be complete without some attention to his appreciation of land scapes and of nature in general. Our author was sensitive to natural scenes and expressed this sensitivity not only in his lyrics, but also in his diary, which records his impressions while in Gijón and on Majorca and while traveling through central and northern Spain.

Jovellanos loved the mountains of his native Asturias, its coast, and its green, intensively cultivated, humanized country side. Unlike many other Spaniards, even of this day, he had a special fondness for trees, which he planted and lovingly observed (D II, 134, 304 et passim). They are important in landscape descriptions like this one, reminiscent of a twentieth-century poem by Jorge Guillén: «Departure from Valladolid at a quarter past seven. The road follows the cattle path; the Pisuerga [river] on the right; leafy banks, on which white poplars grow» (D I, 219; see also D II, 112-13). An old tree is compared to a patriarch surrounded by the family he has sired (V, 351). The shade of a tree which, with a nearby brook, tempers the heat of the day, and a similar scene by moonlight, impress Jovellanos with their poetry (D I, 283; D II, 73-74).

In general, Jovellanos preferred the intimate scenes of nature, discreetly limited, fruitful and therefore useful to man. This tendency is clear in the Majorcan writings (V, 345 ff.), describing the picturesque contrast between the rugged mountains and the plain, where all is «renewed and beautified by the industry of man». After sketching bucolic scenes interspersed with monasteries and funereal cypresses, our author returns to his ideal of an ordered variety. Neatly planted mulberry trees combine utility and beauty in their symmetry, but tedious uniformity is avoided by the fact that the pattern of trees differs from one field to the next. «And since their various shapes and colors also contrast in that skillful way that only the wise hand of nature can find, far from giving the scene that air of artificiality and deliberate regularity that is so tiresome in our city parks, they shed over it the most pleasing harmony». One notes the preference for the ease of nature over the constraint of the formal garden, but also Jovellanos' enduring utilitarianism. The Bay of Palma is likewise calm and useful; utility, contrast, and variety with in regularity are the watchwords of Jovellanos' description of it. Nature, for him, is imperfect without man: «But what is spring, and what would all of nature be, if, still and lonely, she neither heard the voice nor felt the hand of man, whose task it is to train and guide her? [...] Thus, in this scene, the presence of man and his dwelling and his constant labors give the crowning touch to all this beauty» (V, 349a).

Jovellanos could also feel the attraction of the valley of Covadonga, set among the craggy mountains of Asturias, and of other wild and sublime scenes (I, 373b-74a; IV, 146b; D I, 334). The following is a seascape observed from a hill near his house in Gijón:

I cannot dismiss from my memory the situation of Santa Catalina last night. The dubious and mournful light of the sky; the vastness of the sea, revealed from time to time by frightful lightning that shattered the distant horizon; the dull noise of the waters breaking among the rocks at the foot of the hill; the solitude, the calmness, and the silence of all living beings made the scene sublime and magnificent beyond words. In the midst of it, my meditations were interrupted by the «Who goes there?» of a sentinel posted in a doorway of the chapel, who, upon hearing my reply, began to sing in the mournful mode of the region; and this solitary voice, from which I gradually drew farther away, contrasted marvellously with the universal silence. Man, if you wish to be happy, contemplate Nature and draw near her; in her is the source of that little pleasure and felicity that were granted to your being.

(D I, 467-468)                

The harsher landscapes of Castile, so dear to the Generation of 1898, found no favorable echo in Jovellanos' sensibility. Castile, for him, was an «arid country, disagreeable, without wood, without pleasing fruits, without population» (D I, 119). He did not find in it his beloved trees, nor the symbiosis of land and man.

We have seen how Jovellanos found a harmony between his subjective state and the landscape of El Paular; and on Majorca, too, he discovers kinship between a shaded solitude and the «gentle melancholy of [his] soul» (V, 351a). The contemplation of landscape can also stimulate Jovellanos' imagination to recreate scenes of the past. Thus the description of a Roman road leads to an evocation of the Roman troops that had used it; and Majorcan scenes recall the battles of the conquest of that island-the shouts, the neighing, the banners, and the clash of arms (V, 353b).

Jovellanos' appreciation of nature was the inspiration of some of his best verses, as well as a source of comfort and happiness throughout his life. Both in nature and in art, Jovellanos had, for his time, considerable understanding for the extravagant; but in the last analysis he adhered always to an initial predilection for order, symmetry, and utility. In this, as in so many other things, he was a true son of the Enlightenment. Both art and nature were, for him, part of a harmonious world and, in the case of nature, a link between man and God.

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