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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

One factor stands out from the rest

been set forth to account for

Spain's decline. That conquest induced the already-mentioned get-rich-quick spirit among Spaniards, and encouraged the false economic idea that precious metals are the basic form of wealth, leading to the assignment of an undue importance to them. More serious, perhaps, was the fact that the Americas drained Spain of some of her best and most virile blood. The number of Spaniards who went to America, however, was not excessive,--little more than the number of Englishmen who crossed the seas in the seventeenth century. Furthermore, Spain most certainly secured a vast financial profit out of the Americas, not only from precious metals, but also from commerce and the employment which thousands obtained both in Spain and in the colonies. Spanish soil was indeed not fertile enough to support a policy of European imperialism, and that argument has been put forward, but the fault was less in the land itself, which in other days had produced more richly, than in the methods (or lack of them) employed to develop its capacities. Foreign commercial vicissitudes, which are also alleged to account for Spain's economic fall, did indeed help to bring it about,--such, for example, as the disastrous consequences of the silting in of the port of Bruges, which city had been one of the best purchasers of Spain's raw materials. While it is indeed impossible to assign any single event or condition of affairs as the _sine qua non_ of Spain's decadence, one factor stands out from the rest, however, as
the most important,--that of the oft-mentioned policy of Spanish imperialism in Europe.



[Sidenote: Causes of Spain's intellectual greatness in this era.]

The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries represent the highest point in the history of Spanish intellectual achievement in science, literature, and art. Two manifestations characterized the era: an abundant productivity which was as high in quality as it was great in amount; and the diffusion of Spanish learning in the other countries of the civilized world, so that for the first time (except for the transmission of Moslem culture) Christian Spain became a vital factor in European thought, whereas in former years she had merely received the instruction of others. The reasons for this intellectual outburst were various. For one thing the natural evolution from the past seemed to render inevitable a high degree of attainment. For another, the general effects of the Renaissance in Europe made themselves felt in Spain. In the third place, this seems to have been the era of the ripe maturity of the Spanish people, when they were at the height of their capacity in every walk of life. Finally, as has happened so many times in the history of other nations, the very fact of the establishment of a great empire was bound to react both materially and psychologically to produce an unwonted expansion intellectually. Spanish imperialism in Europe undoubtedly contributed much to the civilization of the peninsula, but it is not too much to say that the greatest influence came from Spain's conquests in the new world. These operated directly to make Spain an innovator in scientific thought, and provided the first noteworthy material for mental stimulus in the era. If the better known manifestations of polite literature and painting were not directly traceable to the attainment of a colonial empire, other achievements were, and the indirect effect of the overseas conquests should not be left out of consideration even in the case of those factors which acknowledged Italy as their principal source of inspiration.

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