Page images

adoption of a system so different as the Italian ? Did it arise entirely from the intluence of the superior polish and perfection of Italian versification, as displayed in the works of Boscan and Garcilaso; or was it rather the gradual result of other principles, more remote in their origin, and more general in their operation ?

We confess we lean to the latter opinion. We are persuaded that the superior polish of the Italian poetry never could have impressed the Castilians with an idea of the rudeness of their own, had the national character remained the same. It is a mistake, in the first place, to suppose that the character of Italian poetry was unknown in Spain till the wars of Charles in Italy, and the publication of the works of Boscan. Specimens of the Italian endecasyllabic verse occur even in the Count-Lucanor of Juan Manuel, as early as 1362; and it was evidently familiar to the Marquis of Santillana,* who, before 1458, had published about forty sonnets in the Italian style, which occur in the Cancionero of Argolu de Molini. But though recommended by the talents of such men, the innovation did not then succeed, because it was opposed to the general feeling of the people. It may be said, perhaps, that Boscan was a man of greater talents than Manuel or Santillana, and that its ultimate success was owing to this circumstance. But without meaning to underrate the talents of Boscan and Garcilaso, there are many things, we think, that show that such a general movement as took place in Spain during the sixteenth century, was not owing to the labours of any individual poet. Poels, in fact, are seldom so far in advance of the opinions of their age as is believed. It is true that, in the earliest periods of a national literature, the influence of individual talent is generally more visible than the influence of the spirit of the age on that individual; but as the circumstances which render poets a peculiar class alter with the progress of society, the latter influence gradually becomes the strongest; and in advanced periods of civilisation, even the most original poets content themselves with stamping the character of the age upon their works, instead of endeavouring to communicate, from the superiority of their own minds, a new direction to national propensities. Now in Spain, those circumstances that tend to insulate men of genius, and to separate the spirit of society from individual inspiration, had never existed at all-partly from the universal diffusion of intelligence, which, at a peculiarly early period, had resulted from the connection with Arabia; and partly from the character of Spanish poetry, which, as it was in its nature essentially popular, parlook from the first of all the variations of popular opinion.

We shall find it more difficult to ascribe the revolution in taste, of which we are now speaking, to the influence of the two poets we have mentioned, when we consider the character of their genius, which had nothing in it of an inventive or creative cast, and seemed litted only to improve on the ideas that had been suggested by the more active imagination of others. Men of taste and refinement they undoubtedly were ; but it is not by mere men of taste that the ancient habits and cherished associations of centuries are altered, and the canons of a national literature subverled and overthrown. Such events have their origin in deeper causes; and those poets

* In his letter to the Constable Don Pedro, he talks of Italian poetry as well known, and mentions liis reasons for preferring it in some points to the French. He mentions also, that the eleven-syllable measure, which the Italians themselves had borrowed from the Provencals, was commonly used for centuries before by the Valentians and Catalans,

in whom the innovation first appears will generally be found to have only concentrated and systematised opinions which were already floating on the surface of society. Accordingly, when we look to the history of Spain, we shall see that her national character had been silently undergoing a complete change since the era to which her romantic poetry belongs, under ihe operation of new political relations, new principles of government, and new views of religious toleration.

The struggle between Arabia and Spain, after fluctating for five centuries, began, towards the commencement of the reign of Ferdinand the Catholic, to draw to a crisis. The tide of conquest had been for some time before gradually retreating to the eastward. Leon and Castile, after long wasting their strength ia fruitless rivalry, became united in the persons of Ferdinand and Isabella ; and Granada, the last possession of the Arabs, submitted to their arms in 1492. The same year witnessed the discovery of those vast countries on the other side of the Atlantic, which at first seemed to promise to Spain the possession of inexhaustible treasures. Navarre was added in 1512. The accession of Charles V., the possesssor of the Netherlands, of the imperial crown, and the dominions inherited from Maximilian, completed that enormous accumulation of territory, which, in the course of half a century, raised Spain from an unknown and insignificant state to the proudest rank among the kingdoms of Europe.

Possessed of power more extensive than any that had been witnessed in Europe since the days of Charlemagne, it is not surprising that Charles should have indulged in dreams of universal conquest, or that his subjects should have fallen into the same delirium. The brilliancy of his first campaigns served to confirm these anticipations, and to create and sustain in the mind of the Spanish people an insatiable ambition, and a diseased appetite for military glory. It was to the career of arms that all talent now looked forward for its reward ;-to that the energy and constancy of Spanish character were devoted, and, in the hope of rendering the name of Spain illustrious, the Spanish soldier sacrificed as he thought for a time, his personal freedom, and seemed to feel the same pride in passive obedience, which he had been accustomed to do in the consciousness of independence. Whatever courage, perseverance, or discipline could perform, the warriors of Charles undertook and accomplished; wherever the voice of their leader called them to toil, or danger, or death-we find them still yielding the same unshaken, unmurmuring obedience.

This is the bright side of the picture ; and doubtless there is, at first sight, something imposing in this altered state of Spanish character. There is something that appeals to the imagination, if not to reason, in that unquestioning devotion which courted dangers, and privations, and toils; that bastard patriotism which led the Spanish soldiery to forget even the interests of liberty, in the desire of aggrandising their country, -and to cherish the recollection or anticipation of her greatness, in the wildest and most distant of those regions where she had sent them to conquer-or, perhaps, to die. We are ready to imagine, that the same grandeur of thought was conspicuous in other parts of their character, and yield reluctantly to the belief which is forced upon us by the history of this period—that the persection of military virtue was united with almost every moral vice, with the most deliberate treachery, and the most unrelenting cruelly. But the fact cannot be disguised. The noblest warriors of the sixteenth century were not more terrible for their prouess than Ibeir crimes; and is, as Sismondi says, they presented to the enemy a front of iron, they presented to the unfortunale an iron heart.

It may be asked, why we attribute such demoralising effects to the wars of Charles, while we ascribe to the more protractred struggle with Arabia so different a result? But there were striking distinctions in the character of these contests. It is true, that the effects of war on national character can never be in themselves favourable. Those sacrifices of principle to situation, and that confinement of every thing within the pale of military duty which it exacts—that submissive apathy which it dignifies with the name of discipline—that callousness of feeling which it tends to fosterare always prejudicial to the character of a nation, unless they are counteracted by some strong principle of generous and amiable feeling. But the precise degree in which they operate depends materially upon particular circumstances. A contest which unites all hearts—which animates the exertions of the soldier as well as the leader—which is connected with principles of losty feeling, instead of mere calculations of interest or territorial accession, has always in itself a counteracting principle, which neutralises, in some measure, the evil consequences of war. An additional check is furnished, when, in addition to the noble character of the end in view, long intercourse has taught the contending parties to respect each other, and fostered a romantic connection, and cemented private attachments in the midst of public opposition. Both these are to be found in the warfare with Arabia. But the campaigns of Charles contemplated only the acquisition of territory. They had no connection with that enthusiasm of religion and patriotism which gives to every one engaged a proud consciousness of individual importance. They were diversified and softened by none of those peaceful interludes that relieve the tragedy of war. Strangers among strangers, the Spaniards could cultivate no intercourse with the nations to which they were opposed; and thus, in Europe or America-among Protestants or Catholics-in Germany, or at the sack of Rome—they preserved the same inflexible pride, and the same undistinguishing serocity. Add to this the decay of that chivalrous spirit, which had been mainly supported by the irregular nature of military tactics, and the opportunities thus afforded for feats of individual heroism. The use of gunpowder had become general by the time of Charles V.; and the consequences which Ariosto had forseen had already become evident.

Other elements were united with this military spirit in deteriorating the Spanish character. While threatening or destroying the liberties of other nations, they had been insensible to the gradual decline of their own, amidst the confusion of altack, the excitation of victory, and that privileged dictatorship whch is occasioned by the necessities of war. The immense enlargement of the Spanish dominions had also been unfavourable lo the preservation of the proper balance of power in the state. While Spain continued an insulated kingdom, the nobles, the guardians of the national privileges, had felt themselves almost on an equality with their king, and with the inclination, had also the power of confining, within its proper boundary, the powers of monarchy; but when the immense dominions of


" When Orlando throws Cymosco's gun into the sea :

- Lo tolse e disse-Perche più non stia

Mai cavalier per te d'essere ardito,
Ne quanto il buon val, mai più si vanti
Il rio per te valer,-qui giù rimanti."-C, 9.

[ocr errors]


Germany, Holland, and part of Italy, were added, Spain became only a small item in the list of his possessions, and the power of the nobility shrunk into nothing, compared with that of a prince who could range under his standard the troops of the greater part of Europe. It them became necessary for the nobles to preserve, by submission, the dignity they could no longer maintain by resistance; and thus the same anxiety to support their own importance, which in one stale of society had been the means of securing the national liberties, became, by a change of circumstances, one of the strongest props of arbitrary power.

Last came the influence of the Inquisition. This terrible tribunal had been established in 1978 by Ferdinand and Isabella, and had scarcely reached, during the reign of Charles, its maturity of guilt. It seems undeniable, indeed, that, even before the foundation of the Inquisition, the Spanish character was tinctured with fanaticism in a considerable degree; and perhaps its institution was at first in unison with the spirit of the nation. But, though levelled ostensibly against heresy in religion, its real sphere of action was far more comprehensive; and it is probable, indeed, that the crafty Ferdinand would never have consented to its establishment, had not he foreseen that it might be rendered as effectual a check upon political as religious heterodoxy. To those who have been accustomed to observe by what secret but strong ties all the powers of mind are bound together,—and how surely even the subtle movements of the imagination are affected by the restraint of the sterner faculties, it will be evident how unfavourable such an institution must have been to the spirit of poetry.

Thus, then, had the Spanish character, by the operation of these concurring causes, been gradually assimilating, in many important points, to the Italian. The causes which, in the one country, had fettered the progress of intellect, and lulled the imagination into an Arcadian repose, had, in the other, prepared the way for the introduction of a similar taste, by destroying the relish for those older strains which were no longer in unison with the change of feelings, and gradually withdrawing the attention of Poetry from the alfairs of actual life, which she could no longer look upon without disgust, or censure without danger. How else could it happen, that, amidst an age of great events—sudden and fearful catastrophes-revolutions of empires and opinions—of all that is calculated to sublimate the imagination, and to awaken strains of indignation or triumph, the Spanish Muse should have exchanged her ancient lyre for the lute, and sung only the strains of love or pastoral idleness ?- That, with a new world opened to Spanish discovery abroad—the Moors expelled at home-France defeated at Parma and Pavia, and her monarch a captive in Madrid—the Ottoman power humbled in Hungary and Tunis, and her fleels whelmed in the walers of Lepanto-Portugal, in her turn, falling at Alcasar—the Church torn by the reformation of Luther-Imperial Rome sacked by an apostate Bourbon, and all Europe agitated by civil wars and religious dissensionsthe influence of these mighty changes on Spanish poetry should be traced only in three of Herrera's Odes, some uninteresting Epistles, and in the pages of some dead and forgollen Epics ? How strange does it at first appear, to find the greatest of the Spanish poets, who were themselves engaged in these tumultuous scenes, passing over in silence the record of their dangers and their victories, and even, in eulogising the character of Alva, celebrating, not his military prowess, but that patronage and love of literature which, by a strange inconsistency, was united with cruelty in

[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors]

his character!* But when we reflect what were the crimes that sullied the glory of these wars, and neutralised their poetical and inspiring tendencies -and think of those causes which checked the free exercise of thought and expression-we shall understand and approve that feeling of the Spanish poets, which refused at least to celebrate, what it was not permitted to censure, and sought a refuge from the realities of life in the innocent delights of an ideal Arcadia. Viewed in this light, the gentle melancholy spirit which pervades the poetry of Garcilaso and his contemporaries, such as Boscan, Montemayor, and Mendoza, soldiers like himself, and habitually conversant with scenes little calculated to soften the heart, or awaken the finer sensibilities of our nature, becomes delightful. Doubtless there appears some inconsistency in this union of practical ferocity with theoretical innocence; nor is it easy to conceive how the Spanish poels could thus reconcile war and peace, and trace, as it were, their pastoral verses on the green turf with the point of their swords. But there is still something of a redeeming quality in this sensibility to the beauty of goodness. It is the expression of that homage which the heart pays to nature whenever it yields itself to the pure influences of poetry; and when we find even the stern Mendoza, the Tyrant of Sienna,” in his Epistles to Boscan and Zuniga, breathing out his wishes for solitude and domestic happiness, and returning still unsophisticated to the first impulses of natural emotion, we think of the favourite of Shah Abbas, who, even in the height of his pros perity, continued to visit in secret the cloak, the crook, and the shepherd's pipe, which he had handled in days less brilliant, but not less happy.

We are not writing a history of Spanish poetry; nor is it our intention to particularise the poets of the age of Charles V. The slight distinctions which separate them from each other, and the minor points of versification and expression, can never be properly appreciated by foreigners. We wish only to throw out some general views of the state of poetry at this period, and of the causes in which its peculiarities originated, and to illustrate these by a few specimens from those poets who may be considered as occupying the highest rank in the departments which they chose for themselves. The general tone of the poetry of this period is so decidedly pastoral, that, in a coup d'æil of this kind, it might be unnecessary to exhibit any specimens from other departments, were it not that the few we do possess in the heroic, and the moral and religious lyric, though they can be regarded only as exceptions to the prevailing character of the age, are of uncommon excellence; -and in pastoral poetry there is so much sameness and monolony of imagery and sentiment—so much of a conventional cast in which all poets agree, that the character of a very large mass may be completely appreciated from a very few specimens.

In adopting the Italian versification and the Italian tasle in the pastoral

* This union of elegant taste with ferocity of conduct, which is conspicuous in Alva, and to a less extent in Mendoza, is less uncommon than might at first be imagined; and the annals of France and Italy, during the two centuries that preceded this period, furnish some striking proofs, that Horace's remurk, “ Irgenuas didicisse," &c. is not of universal application. Charles of Anjou, the tyrant of Naples, and the murderer of Conradin, was a poet; and amatory verses of his in the langue d'oil, still exist in the Royal Library at Paris. Folquet, Bishop of Thoulouse, one of the mosi odious wretches of his age, was a 'Troubadour and a poet. Filippo Maria, the last of the Visconti, and Francisco Sforza of Milan, men of blood and outrage, surrounded the seves with a court of learned men. Even the gloomy Philip II. amidst the various ailairs of importance which engaged him on his entrance into "Portugal, is said, by Faria y Souza, to have enquired with eagerness for Camoens, and to have been sensibiy ailected, by heariag that all tra! renained or that great poet was the epitaph in the church of Santa Ana, which, to the disgrace of his country, commemorates that " he lived poor and miserable and so he died!”

« PreviousContinue »