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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Sidenote Application and duration of the siglo de oro


Social manifestations of Spanish intellectuality and its duration in time.]

There were many social manifestations of Spanish intellectuality, such as the eagerness with which men sought an education, the honors paid to men of letters in an age when military glory might tend to absorb attention, the encyclopedic knowledge demonstrated by scholars who were at one and the same time proficient in widely divergent fields, the circumstance that women won marked distinction (together with the fact that their achievements were well received), and the fondness of the upper classes for social functions of a literary character,--not a few of which developed from a simple gathering at some noble's house into the formation of clubs or academies of an intellectual character. This flourishing state of affairs endured a much shorter time than might have been expected from the force of its initial momentum; in a broad sense the intellectual decadence of the country accompanied, or perhaps resulted from, the political and economic decline, but just as in the case of these factors it was not equal in celerity or in completeness in all of the many-sided aspects of Spanish intellectual life. Furthermore, the fall was so rapid in some respects, and from such a high point in all, that the ultimate degradation, though deep enough, seemed by comparison to be worse than it was. At any rate, the state of intellectuality at its best was sufficiently great to deserve the

title which has been applied to the period of its expression, that of the _siglo de oro_ (golden century) in Spanish science, literature, and art.

[Sidenote: Application and duration of the _siglo de oro_.]

A question arises as to the application of the term and the duration of the period of the _siglo de oro_. The seventeenth century has usually been regarded as the golden age, for it was then that the greatest names in polite literature and painting appeared. In fact, however, the era of intellectual brilliance dates from an early point in the sixteenth century in the reign of Charles I, lasting for about a century and a half, past the middle of the seventeenth century. The general desire for knowledge, which was so marked in the first half of the sixteenth century, had already ebbed away by the end of the reign of Philip II. The greatest achievements in didactic and scientific literature belong to the sixteenth century, and, indeed, most of the great writers and painters who won fame in the reigns of Philip III and Philip IV got their start, or at least were born, in the time of Philip II. Great results were obtained in both periods, but the stimulus came for the most part in the sixteenth century.

[Sidenote: The universities.]

The aristocratic character of intellectual attainments in the _siglo de oro_ was reflected in that of the institutions of learning which were founded. In addition to the eight universities existing in 1516, twenty-one were added in the sixteenth century, and five in the seventeenth, making a total of thirty-four in all. Salamanca and Alcal? stood forth as the leading universities, although outranked in legal studies by Valladolid. Salamanca had the more ample curriculum, with some sixty professorships, but Alcal?, with forty-two professorial chairs, was distinguished for the scientific labors of its faculty. Salamanca was more largely attended, having 6778 students in 1584, a number which had declined to 1955 in 1682, while Alcal? had 1949 in 1547, 2061 in 1650, and 1637 in 1700. The medieval type of internal management remained as the essential basis of university administration, characterized by the close connection between the university and the civil authorities (to which latter the former were in a measure subjected), by an intimate relationship with the cathedral or other local churches, and by the ecclesiastical origin of many of the university rents. The universities did not become religious establishments, however, even though churchmen founded the greater number of them. As time went on, the kings displayed a tendency to intervene in university life, as by the sending of _visitadores_, or by imposing their candidates for professorships upon the universities, but they did not go so far as to deprive the universities of their economic, legal, and scientific independence.

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