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Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos

John H. R. Polt




By means of this book I should like to acquaint the reader with a man who embodies the best of Enlightenment Spain. His personality is greater than any of his works, but it is only through these works that we can try to approach it.

Jovellanos wrote on several broad areas of interest. I have taken up these areas in the roughly chronological order which the author's circumstances imposed on them; and for each, I have tried to provide the reader with a notion of Jovellanos' principal works, supplemented by references to his other writings. I have sought to examine the significance of Jovellanos' thought and writings in themselves and in the historical process, as well as the relations among the different facets of a single mind. In doing so, I have tended to deal, in effect, with the work, and not only the works, of Jovellanos, a tendency which the nature of this author's writings makes, I believe, not only inevitable, but desirable. In keeping with the norms of the Twayne World Authors Series, I have quoted Jovellanos in the original Spanish only when, as in the case of some poems, it seemed to me particularly desirable to make the author's unadulterated style accessible to those readers who may know his language. All other quotations are in translation; and since Jovellanos' works are not available in English, these translations, as well as those of other foreign authors, are mine.

In order to save space in references, most of which are given parenthetically within the text, I have used Roman numerals, followed by Arabic ones, and a letter (e. g., II, 125b) to indicate the volume, page, and, where pertinent, column in Jovellanos' Obras publicadas e inéditas, 5 vols., ed. Cándido Nocedal (I and II) and Miguel Artola (III, IV, V), Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, XLVI, L, LXXXV, LXXXVI, LXXXVII (Madrid, 1858-1956). I have not given the title of the particular essay or report thus referred to unless such information is of special interest. A similar combination of numbers, preceded by the letter «D» (e. g., D I, 317), refers to volume and page in Jovellanos' Diarios, ed. Julio Somoza, 3 vols. (Oviedo, 1953-1955). Other references and abbreviations are appropriately explained in the notes.

Unfortunately for one who rushes in to undertake a task such as this one, the areas with which Jovellanos concerned himself are vast. Leaving aside poetry, a major subject in itself, they include such fields as economics and political theory, and this at a time when they were undergoing profound changes. Each area, in effect, deserves a book for itself, although then some of the total vision which I hope to convey might be lost. Under these circumstances, this book cannot expect to say much, if anything, new to specialists in Jovellanos and his work. If, however, it succeeds in presenting Jovellanos to the interested and educated layman and is perhaps even of some use to the scholar outside this limited field, it will not be a failure.

J. H. R. P.

Madrid; June, 1970



1744 January 5: Jovellanos is born in Gijón. He is christened on the following day and given the names of the Magi and the Virgin: Baltasar Melchor Gaspar María, though Gaspar was to prevail.
1757 Jovellanos receives the first tonsure and begins his studies at the University of Oviedo.
1759 Jovellanos enters the University of Ávila to study canon law.
1761 June 9: Baccalaureate degree in canon law from the University of Osma.
1763 November 4: Licentiate in canon law, University of Ávila.
1764 May 10: Jovellanos is appointed a student in the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso of the University of Alcalá de Henares.
1764 December 24: Baccalaureate degree in canon law from the University of Alcalá de Henares.
1767 Jovellanos decides to compete for a canonry in the Cathedral of Tuy.
1768 February 13: Jovellanos is appointed a criminal magistrate in Seville. He goes to that city.
1768 Approximate date of Jovellanos' earliest known poems.
1769 Jovellanos writes the tragedy Pelayo.
1773 Jovellanos writes the prose drama El delincuente honrado (The Honorable Culprit).
1774 First performance of The Honorable Culprit. March 15: Jovellanos is promoted in the magistrature.
1775 Joins the Economic Society of Seville.
1776 July: «Carta de Jovino a sus amigos salmantinos» («Letter from Jovino [Jovellanos] to his Salamancan Friends»), a verse epistle.
1778 August 27: Jovellanos is appointed a magistrate in Madrid. October 13: Arrives in Madrid. Joins the Economic Society of Madrid.
1779 Jovellanos meets Francisco de Cabarrús. July: First version of the «Epístola de Fabio (or Jovino) a Anfriso» («Epistle from Fabio to Anfriso»).
1780 Jovellanos is named to the Academies of History and Fine Arts. August 21: Is relieved of the magistrature and appointed to the Council of Military Orders.
1781 Jovellanos meets Juan Meléndez Valdés after a correspondence of some years. April 22: Discurso sobre los medios de promover la felicidad de Asturias (An Address on the Means of Promoting the Prosperity of Asturias). July 14: Elogio de las bellas artes (In Praise of the Fine Arts).
1782 First performance of Pelayo. February 20: Jovellanos is named to the Academy of Canon Law.
1782- Jovellanos writes a series of letters to Antonio Ponz, describing landscapes, architecture, and customs.
1783 Jovellanos is appointed to the Royal Spanish Academy and to the Royal Commission on Commerce, Currency, and Mines.
1784 March 12: Discurso sobre el establecimiento de un montepío para los nobles de la Corte (An Address on the Establishment of a Welfare Fund for Nobles in the Capital).
1785 June 19: Jovellanos is appointed to the Academy of Public Law. November 9: Informe sobre el libre ejercicio de las artes (Report on the Free Exercise of Crafts).
1786 April 6: Jovellanos' First Satire is published in El Censor.
1787 May 31: El Censor publishes Jovellanos' Second Satire.
1788 January 19: Elogio de Ventura Rodríguez (Eulogy of Ventura Rodríguez). November 8: Elogio de Carlos III (Eulogy of Charles III)
1790 August 16: Reglamento para el Colegio de Calatrava (Regulations for the College of Calatrava). August 28: After trying to intervene on behalf of Cabarrús, Jovellanos is sent to Asturias. December 29: Memoria para el arreglo de la policía de 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).
1794 January 7: Inauguration of the Royal Asturian Institute. April 26: Jovellanos sends his Informe en el expediente de ley agraria (Report on the Agrarian Law) to the Economic Society of Madrid.
1795 Publication of the Report on the Agrarian Law.
1797 October 16: Jovellanos receives word of his appointment as Ambassador to Russia. November 27: Returns to Madrid as Minister of Justice.
1798 August 15: Is relieved of his ministry and ordered to return to Asturias.
1799 A manuscript translation of Rousseau's Social Contract praises Jovellanos in a note.
1800 Anonymous secret accusations against Jovellanos.
1801 March 13: Jovellanos is arrested. April 18: Is confined in the Carthusian monastery of Valldemossa on Majorca.
1802 May 5: Jovellanos is confined in the castle of Bellver, outside Palma. Tratado teórico-práctico de enseñanza (Theoretical-Practical Treatise on Education).
1802- Jovellanos prepares several studies on the castle of 1807 Bellver and on Palma.
1808 April 5: By order of Ferdinand VII, dated March 22, 1808, Jovellanos is released from imprisonment. May 20: Arrives in Barcelona. August 16, 1808-August 28, 1811: Correspondence with Lord Holland. September 1808: Jovellanos breaks with Cabarrús over the latter's adherence to Bonaparte. September 25: Begins his work as a member of the Junta Central. December 17: Arrives in Seville with the Junta Central.
1809 November 16: Bases para la formación de un plan general de instrucción pública (Bases for the Formation of a General Plan of Public Education).
1810 January 27: The Junta Central arrives at the Isla de León, near Cadiz. January 31: Dissolution of the Junta Central. February 26: Jovellanos leaves Cadiz. March 6, 1810-July 17, 1811: Jovellanos stays in Muros (Galicia).
1811 Publication of Memoria en defensa de la Junta Central (Defense of the Junta Central), written in 1810. August 6 or 7: Jovellanos returns to Gijón. November 6: The French advance obliges Jovellanos to flee from Gijón. November 27: Jovellanos dies of pneumonia in Puerto de Vega (Asturias).


Chapter I

Jovellanos: Life and Times

The Dawn of the Enlightenment

Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos was born on January 5, 1744, in Gijón, a seaport of five or six thousand inhabitants, in the Principality of Asturias (now the province of Oviedo), on the northern coast of Spain. His parents, Francisco Gregorio de Jovellanos (or Jove Llanos, as the name was also written) and Francisca Apolinaria Jove Ramírez, came of old and noble families and raised their numerous children, of whom Gaspar was the tenth, in an impressive house whose stone skeleton still stands on the Plaza de Jovellanos, at the edge of the oldest part of the town1.

The reign of Philip V was nearing its end when Jovellanos was born. Spanning, with a minor interruption, the first forty-six years of the eighteenth century, it was, especially by contrast with the stagnation that preceded it, a period of incipient reform and considerable cultural activity. Philip, the first Bourbon to occupy the Spanish throne, enlarged the role of the state in cultural and intellectual life, following the example of his grand father, Louis XIV of France. On the incentive or with the support of the government in Madrid, learned academies were founded, the Royal (later National) Library was established, and protection was given to men of letters. An intellectual pioneer, Fray Benito Jerónimo Feijóo -Benedictine monk, professor of theology, and admirer of Bacon- a self-proclaimed «free citizen of the republic of letters», opened windows onto the new thought of the rest of Europe through his lucid, amazingly varied, and still fascinating essays. Ignacio de Luzán returned from years of residence in Italy to publish his La Poética (Poetics), 1737, the manifesto of Spanish Neoclassicism. Literary theory ultimately derived from Aristotle thus challenged the Baroque, now deemed extravagant, at the same time that Feijóo led the attack on scholasticism and Aristotelian philosophy. Reason was the authority invoked by both of these shapers of eighteenth century Spanish thought: for Luzán, the rules of poetry were drawn by reason from the study of nature and of the great models of antiquity; for Feijóo, reason, or «demonstration», was to guide man in that «hemisphere of the intellectual world» which was not oriented toward revelation and grace. Jovellanos' generation were the heirs of these men.

Charles III: Enlightened Despotism

The work of the Enlightenment continued during the peaceful years of King Ferdinand VI (1746-1759) and culminated in the long and distinguished reign of Charles III (1759-1788). King Charles, the third son of Philip V, succeeded to the crown upon the death without issue of his half-brother Ferdinand; Philip's oldest son, briefly king as Louis I, had died in 1724. Not appearing to be destined for the Spanish throne, Charles had served a long apprenticeship as ruler of Bourbon lands in Italy, first as Duke of Parma (1731-1734), then as King of the Two Sicilies (1734-1759). From Italy he imported his ministers Squillace and Grimaldi, later bringing to power a number of distinguished Spaniards, among whom the most notable were the Count of Aranda, an aristocratic soldier, and two lawyers of good family subsequently ennobled for their services: Josh Moñino, who became Count of Floridablanca, and Pedro Rodríguez Campomanes, made Count of Campomanes. Under the leadership of these men, and with the concurrence of the king, the government of Charles III came to exemplify for Spain that political ideal called Enlightened Despotism. It was a government which sought sincerely, though perhaps not always successfully, to rule for the benefit of the people; but the very presumption that «the people» needed to be educated and elevated precluded their sharing in power, which was exercised by an elite of birth and, increasingly, of talent under the motto «Everything for the people, but without the people».

The well-intentioned but often arbitrary regime of Charles III brooked no interference with its authority; and its centralizing tendency brought it into conflict with the strongest autonomous or semiautonomous body within its borders, the Roman Catholic Church. The struggle between Church and State was fought on three main fronts. One of these involved the Society of Jesus, long one of the most powerful religious orders in Europe and widely considered subversive because of its loyalty to the pope and its opposition to monarchy by divine right. The Jesuits were persecuted throughout Europe; in Spain they were accused of complicity in the widespread riots of 1766 and subsequently expelled in 1767. Not satisfied with expulsion, the allied Bourbon monarchs, largely through the efforts of Moñino, convinced the pope to abolish the Society in 1773.

Another «state within the state» was the Holy Office of Inquisition, which enjoyed a certain autonomy in investigating and judging questions of faith and morals, claimed special privileges for its functionaries, and, though no longer very active in persecuting the persons of heretics, was influential in the censorship of publications. The government sought to expand its power while curtailing that of the Inquisition, a process not completed until the abolition of the Holy Office in the nineteenth century.

The third front on which Enlightened Despotism moved against the Church was economic. The pious practice of bequeathing property, and particularly land, to religious institutions in mortmain, that is, in inalienable possession, had helped to concentrate land in hands which could only acquire and never dispose. Economists had argued that such concentration discouraged efficient cultivation and economic development, and the government claimed the right to regulate such acquisitions.

On each of these three major issues, many churchmen sided with the crown; but others saw only threats to the sacred and hence inviolable rights of the Church, while the king and his ministers argued that they sought only to reassert the inviolable rights of the temporal sovereign without invading their opponents' just spiritual authority.

The government of Charles III concerned itself also with educational reform, establishing a model secondary school in Madrid and attempting to correct abuses in the universities and adjust their curricula to modern intellectual trends. These efforts were only partially successful, since many professors, in Spain as elsewhere in Europe, fought a rearguard action in defense of scholasticism. Economic development was favored through a program of public works, canals, and roads. Establishment of new industries was encouraged, foreign artisans were protected, and technical information was disseminated. Trade was to be aided by the establishment of a national bank, and an ambitious program to populate waste lands with Catholic foreigners was undertaken. In all these fields the government sought to establish its authority and to use it for what it considered the benefit of the people. Economic societies founded by private citizens received the support of the government, which often requested their advice.

In foreign affairs, the reign of Charles III was less felicitous. A perpetual alliance with his French cousins involved the king in repeated wars against the British, including the war which established the independence of the United States; and although Spanish forces were able to recapture the Balearic island of Menorca, seized by Great Britain at the beginning of the century, they failed to do the same for Gibraltar, which even today remains the only alien colony in western Europe.

Jovellanos' Formative Years: Universities and Seville

Jovellanos received most of his intellectual formation during the reign of Charles III. He had been destined for an ecclesiastical career and received the first tonsure at the age of thirteen. After early studies in Oviedo, he devoted himself to civil and canon law at the University of Ávila and then, in 1764, received a fellowship to continue his training at the University of Alcalá de Henares. In Alcalá he met the soldier, satirist, and poet José de Cadalso, who encouraged his first poetic efforts. In 1767 Jovellanos, now twenty-three, took steps to become a canon in the Cathedral of Tuy; but friends persuaded him to abandon the Church for the law and secured him an appointment as a relatively minor magistrate in Seville. After a trip home the young man entered on his duties in 1768, beginning an extremely important decade in his life.

At this time his friend and biographer, Juan Agustín Ceán Bermúdez, describes him as follows:

He was, then, well proportioned in stature, rather tall than short, elegant of body, erect of head, fair and ruddy, with lively eyes, well-turned arms and legs, feet and hands like a lady's, and a walk naturally firm and decorous, though some thought it affected. His clothes were clean and orderly, he ate and drank in moderation, and he was courteous in his familiar dealings, attracting many persons of both sexes by his agreeable, well-modulated voice and elegant persuasiveness. If he paid special attention to the fair sex, it was to those of distinction, talent, and breeding, never to the foolish or ill behaved. Above all he was generous, liberal, and even prodigal with his limited means; devout without prejudices, frank and simple, a lover of truth, order, and justice; firm in his resolves, but always kind and gentle with the helpless; constant in friendship, grateful to his benefactors, tireless in studies, and unflagging in work.

(Pages 12-13)                

During the ten years Jovellanos spent in Seville his formal university education was supplemented by an informal but intense contact with the thought of the Enlightenment, which prevailed in the circle of Pablo de Olavide, the civil governor. Olavide, a Peruvian by birth and a man highly esteemed by the French philosophes, had been entrusted not only with the government of Seville but also with the supervision of the foreign settlements in the Sierra Morena, one of the more ambitious and controversial of Charles III's economic projects. In addition to these duties, he attempted to reform the University of Seville, stimulated and protected the theater, corresponded with the leading intellectuals of France, and served as a focus and channel for the introduction of foreign books and «advanced» ideas. These activities attracted the unfavorable attention of the inquisitors. Olavide was accused of impiety, corresponding with dangerous persons, reading and possessing forbidden books, owning obscene pictures, and various other offenses; and in 1776 he fell victim to these accusations, losing his position and his freedom in one of the Inquisition's last and most daring (since directed against a relatively high government official) shows of force.

Jovellanos, attending to his duties as a magistrate, worked for reform of criminal procedures, such as the abolition of judicial torture, and for the more equitable and humane execution of justice. He also, however, discovered new fields of study, particularly economics, which he later called the true science of government (I, 314b). He was one of the first members of the Economic Society of Seville. Since secondary and higher education were conducted in Latin, he naturally knew that language, as well as French and Italian; and during his years in Seville he became one of the relatively small number of Spaniards able to read English. The attention paid to theater in Seville had its effect on Jovellanos, whose two extant plays date from this period. In eighteenth-century Spain law and economics were not deemed antithetical to poetry; and Jovellanos cultivated the lyric genres of his time, though he was soon to denounce such verse as frivolous and unworthy. Through a Sevillian friend he established contact with the Salamanca group of poets: Fray Diego Tadeo González, José Iglesias de la Casa, and various others, including Juan Meléndez Valdés, Spain's finest lyrist of the eighteenth century. Although younger than some of these poets, Jovellanos soon became their mentor, together with Cadalso. A good deal of the verse of this period is circumstantial or amorous poetry, and much ink has been spilled trying to identify the lady or ladies to whom Jovellanos addressed the latter. Jovellanos never married, a fact less unusual in Enlightenment Spain than in twentieth-century America, yet one which has also given rise to conjectures about possible religious scruples (Jovellanos had received minor, though not permanently binding, orders), possible unhappy love affairs, and so forth. He does seem to have had one intense and long-standing attachment, beginning in Seville and definitively ending in Madrid when he was thirty five2. Thereafter Jovellanos speaks of marriage only to declare himself unfit for it when he is in his fifties (II, 342a; D II, 125).

Jovellanos in Madrid

In 1778, when he was thirty-four, Jovellanos was transferred from Seville to Madrid, thus beginning a new period in his life which was to last until 1790. His academic training ended in 1767; his initiation into the world of the Enlightenment occupied the Seville years; now, in the capital, Jovellanos was to join the ruling elite and work for the implementation of the principles he had absorbed. After a brief time as a criminal magistrate he was appointed to a council governing Spain's religious-military orders and dealing with matters of ecclesiastical, economic, and educational policy. From Seville he had already corresponded with Campomanes, legal officer of the powerful Council of Castile, president of the Economic Society of Madrid, and a leader in the political and intellectual life of the capital. The protection of Campomanes and his own talents opened for Jovellanos the doors of the most prestigious organizations. He became a member of the Economic Society, of the Academy of History, of the Academy of Fine Arts, and of the Royal Spanish Academy, to name only the most important. Through Campomanes he came to know Francisco de Cabarrús, a Frenchman by birth but a naturalized Spaniard, devoted to economic studies and future founder of Spain's first national bank. In Madrid Jovellanos first met Meléndez after several years of correspondence; and here he became the friend and patron of the man who was to be the greatest painter of the age, Francisco de Goya.

Jovellanos took an active part in the studies of the Economic Society. In the Consejo de Órdenes, he was concerned with reform of the colleges which the orders maintained in Spanish universities. He published two brilliant satires in El Censor, the leading Enlightened paper; and as lyric poet and disappointed lover, he wrote his best-known verses, the «Epistle from Fabio to Anfriso». A member of important official and semiofficial bodies, the friend and patron of rising young men in the arts, the protégé of the powerful Campomanes, and respected for his varied accomplishments, Jovellanos belonged to the political and literary «Establishment» of his day. His fall from this position was to be even more rapid than his rise to it.

An Honorable Exile and a New King

In 1790, Francisco de Cabarrús was imprisoned for alleged financial wrongdoings. This news reached Jovellanos while he was visiting one of the colleges whose reform had been entrusted to him, and he returned to Madrid to intercede for his friend and to enlist the powerful support of Campomanes. This personage, however, refused to see him, stating that nothing was to be done and that he felt no vocation for heroism. Jovellanos, who had not hesitated to declare himself the partisan of Olavide after the latter had fallen to the inquisitors, was unable to understand or condone this attitude, which ended his esteem for Campomanes. Having returned to Madrid without permission and having failed to accomplish his objectives, Jovellanos was ordered to proceed to Asturias and thereto attend to the problems of roads and coal mines. He considered himself cast into an «honorable exile»; and he was in fact removed from the seat of power and allowed to remain in a limbo, neither condemned nor restored to grace, for seven years.

Thus began a new period in Jovellanos' life, and one of the most fruitful. It coincided with profound changes on the broader stage of Spanish history. Charles III had died on December 14, 1788, to be succeeded by his son, who, though in intentions and inclination similar to his father, was not his equal in capacity for work or judgment of men and affairs. The reign of Charles IV was to founder through the unhappy combination of two sets of circumstances. One of these was clearly beyond the king's control. He had not been a year on the throne when the Bastille was stormed in Paris. In 1792 France became a republic; and in spite of Charles's efforts to save his royal cousin, Louis XVI was executed the following year. The scenes of terror and sacrilege, horrifying to most Spaniards and certainly to the Catholic King Charles IV, were eventually succeeded by the consolidation of a new monarchy. Napoleon Bonaparte, moving into the vacuum left by the executioners, became «consul» in 1799 and five years later proclaimed himself «Emperor of the French». These events, which shook the most remote nations of Europe, naturally affected neighboring Spain; but it was her additional misfortune to be guided at so turbulent a time by Manuel Godoy, whom Charles IV elevated to the highest positions of his government, casting aside the seasoned ministers who had served his father. Godoy, who has been subjected to much scandal and censure, was a young officer of good family and education, favored by both king and queen, who had the poor judgment to raise him, at twenty-five, to the first ministry. In the critical year of 1792 Spain was thus governed by a man who, though a soldier, had had no military experience, no diplomatic experience, and little experience of any other useful kind. With a brief interruption Godoy was to maintain his power and the royal favor until 1808. He promoted education and the arts and tried to win the cooperation of men of talent; but he ultimately failed in the task, perhaps impossible for anyone, of coping with events in France. He was unsuccessful in fighting against the French and unsuccessful in fighting with them against the British. In the meantime attention and resources were distracted from necessary domestic efforts, and the danger of subversion from abroad strengthened the hand of censors and of the enemies of the Enlightenment.

During most of this period Jovellanos was excluded from power. Although he had long been absent from his native Gijón, he was deeply attached to it, and the return to it was not unwelcome to him, though the circumstances of it were. Thus we find him disclaiming all interest in returning to Madrid, yet also soliciting a position there or some public mark of a restoration to favor (D I, 441-44, 509-10). All the while he remained intensely active, as we can see in his diary and letters of this time. He attended to the roads of the province, to the nascent coal mining industry, and to manufactures; and he carried out a long standing commission entrusted to him by the Economic Society of Madrid by writing one of his best-known works, the Informe en el expediente de ley agraria (Report on the Agrarian Law). He continued his interest in educational reform and put theory into practice by founding, in 1794, the Royal Asturian Institute of Navigation and Mineralogy, a secondary school designed to aid the economic development of his native province. Partly on his own and partly in fulfillment of various governmental commissions, he traveled extensively over the north of Spain, every where studying customs, landscapes, agriculture, architecture, libraries, manuscript collections, and works of art. He found time to encourage theater in Gijón. In fact, he was the economic, cultural, and intellectual leader and arbiter of the town. Jealousies and intrigues developed around him, and he frequently feared he was spied upon.

From Minister to Prisoner

Jovellanos had not been very long in Gijón when Cabarrús, the indirect cause of his «exile», was exonerated and freed. Cabarrús was taken up by Godoy; and he worked to gain the favor of the rising star for his friend Jovellanos. In 1797, apparently without warning, Jovellanos was rehabilitated, first with an appointment as Ambassador to Russia and then, before he had left his home, with the Ministry of Justice. Thus in November, 1797, Jovellanos returned to the center of political life.

Jovellanos' main concerns as minister were reform of the Inquisition, the old problem of ecclesiastical mortmain, and educational reform, including the modernization of curricula and the substitution of Spanish for Latin as the language of instruction3. All of these issues aroused considerable resentment and resistance in ecclesiastical quarters. At the same time Jovellanos was considered to belong to the not very accurately named «Jansenist» faction, which, in brief, sought to limit Church wealth and power and to strengthen the bishops at the expense of the pope and the Inquisition. Jovellanos thus had clerical and scholastic enemies, besides having, it seems, soon antagonized the queen and Godoy himself. These forces combined to cause Jovellanos' dismissal from office on August 15, 1798. Whether or not there were, as has long been alleged, efforts at the same time to poison him, it is a fact that his health was shaken by his experiences. He returned to Gijón to take up his interrupted economic and educational projects, but he was not to find the peace for which he now longed. Secret denunciations were made against him, and a secret administrative investigation of his conduct was begun4. His position was not improved by a laudatory reference to him in what was considered a subversive book5; and there is reason to believe that Godoy, who had recovered from a brief eclipse of power, considered him an enemy to be extirpated, though in his memoirs he denies any complicity in what was to come. Be that as it may, on March 13, 1801, Jovellanos was arrested in his home. His papers were seized; he was held incommunicado and then sent under guard to Barcelona, and thence to the island of Majorca, where at the age of fifty-seven he began to play a new role, that of political prisoner.

Jovellanos spent seven years on Majorca, confined first in the Carthusian monastery of Valldemossa, then in the castle of Bellver just outside Palma. He asked in vain to be formally accused and tried. His friends were also persecuted, and strict orders were issued depriving him of all communication and writing materials. The degree to which these orders were executed is open to question; although some insist that Jovellanos was subjected to the full force of oppression, he managed to correspond with friends and to write extensively. His insatiable intellectual curiosity at once turned to his new surroundings; and he set to studying the landscape, architecture, history, language, and literature of Majorca. He collected books and manuscripts, wrote a treatise on education, and described the architectural monuments of Palma for his friend Ceán.

Jovellanos and the War of Independence

The storm which was to free Jovellanos and sweep away his persecutors was, however, already brewing. The government's policy of patience and vacillation had avoided the wrath of Bonaparte, but not his contempt. The weak Charles IV, the now unpopular Godoy, and the jealous and intriguing Ferdinand, heir to the throne, all committed the folly of seeking Bonaparte's support, eventually making a humiliating pilgrimage to Bayonne, where royal father and son abdicated the crown in 1808 and handed it to the Corsican. French troops had meanwhile been entering Spain, ostensibly in order to fight a common enemy, Portugal; with or without Spanish consent, they set about occupying the principal cities. While the court was in Bayonne, preparing to abdicate, the people of Madrid rose against the French on May 2, 1808; and although this spark seemed extinguished in blood, revolt spread rapidly throughout the peninsula. Joseph Bonaparte, declared King of Spain by his brother, found his unwilling subjects forming provisional governments to oppose him and allying themselves with the British and the Portuguese.

Ferdinand had been proclaimed king before the voyage to Bayonne; and in the brief period before his abdication, his government had freed a number of political prisoners, among them Jovellanos, who in May, 1808, returned to the mainland. There he found a very confusing and difficult situation. He had been named to a junta or committee which was to take power if the junta left by Ferdinand VII proved unable to carry on; now he received offers and even appointments from the government of Joseph Bonaparte, which was supported by Cabarrús and other friends. He rejected them, first equivocally and then decidedly, breaking all further relations with the man for whom he had been willing to risk disgrace. Instead he became one of the Asturian delegates to the Junta Central, the provisional government fighting against the French. He was thereafter unfalteringly loyal to the national cause, even when at its lowest ebb he was approached in flattering terms by one of the French generals. The invading armies forced the Junta to flee to Seville, and later to Cadiz; but it continued to govern in the name of Ferdinand, who, during the six years that Spaniards fought to «restore» him to the «rightful throne» he had abjectly surrendered in Bayonne, lived in France as a pensioner of Bonaparte, claiming that his highest aim was to marry a «princess» of the «imperial» family.

As a member of the Junta Central, Jovellanos continued to work for educational reform, writing a plan for public education. He was also instrumental in the convocation of the cortes, or parliament, which met in Cadiz in 1810 and eventually produced the liberal constitution of 1812. The geographer Isidoro Antillón, a leading liberal in the cortes, thus describes Jovellanos in this period:

He was well proportioned in stature, with a kindly face, beautiful and pleasantly expressive eyes, very neat in his dress, table, and lodgings, elegant in his manners, accessible to all who sought him, and affectionate even in the most serious conversations. He had an excellent memory, an uncommonly fluid and opportune way of expressing himself, and a spirit of peace and reconciliation in all things. Plutarch declared that he preferred that history should say that there had never been a Plutarch to that it should be said he had been an evil man. This was always, in public and in private life, the policy of Jovellanos.6

After the Junta was replaced by a regency on February 1, 1810, its former members were subjected to unworthy harassment and suspicions, from which Jovellanos sought to clear himself and his colleagues in what may be regarded as his political testament, Memoria en defensa de la Junta Central (Defense of the Junta Central).

The Last Months

On August 6, 1811, the withdrawal of the French troops enabled Jovellanos to return to Gijón, where he immediately began to work for the restoration and repair of the Institute he had founded, and which had been neglected during his imprisonment and sacked by the French. A hero now even to his compatriots, he was not able to enjoy their esteem for long. In November of the same year a new French advance forced him to flee once more. He died of pneumonia in Puerto de Vega, in western Asturias, on November 27, 1811, five weeks before his sixty-eighth birthday.

Among the vicissitudes of Jovellanos' life certain factors remained constant. His intellectual curiosity, as a glance at any catalogue of his works will show, remained boundless. His love of poetry and art, once awakened, never died. Nature, both the useful and the beautiful, was always his passion. He never questioned the citizen's duty to serve his country. He never lost faith in the power of education and practical reason, holding always to the double ideal he had established for the Asturian Institute: Quid verum, quid utile, «Truth and Utility». In the pages that follow we shall see these ideas and beliefs as they appear in Jovellanos' works. All of these respond to the circumstances in which their author found himself; together, they are the summa of the Enlightened Spain of the late eighteenth century.

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