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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

Despite the characterization of them by Queen Amalia


style="text-align: justify;"> CHAPTER XXXVIII

INTELLECTUAL ACTIVITIES, 1700-1808

[Sidenote: General characteristics of intellectual life in Spain and the Americas.]

In intellectual expression, as well as in other phases of Spain's national life, the eighteenth century was a period of recovery from the degradation which marked the close of the preceding era. Spain placed herself abreast of the times, but not as formerly in a leading position; among the many who distinguished themselves by their achievements there were few who attained to a European reputation, and perhaps only one, the painter Goya, may be reckoned with the immortals. On the other hand Spain entered more definitely into the general current of western European thought than at any previous time in her history; intellectual activities in France reacted almost at once in Spain, and the influences springing out of Italy and England were potent. The Americas began to take over the intellectual side of their Spanish heritage much more completely than before, and while not nearly approximating the mother country in the amount or excellence of their contributions furnished illustrious names in almost every branch worthy to stand beside those of their contemporaries in Spain. Education there became more general, more secular, and more highly regarded than ever before. Two obstacles, however, were a serious check upon

the development of a broad culture in the colonies: the problems of race, reducing the number of those able to participate, and lessening the desirability of a propaganda for the ideal involved; and the suspicions of the Spanish-controlled government, lest ideas convert themselves into thoughts of revolution.

[Sidenote: Progress in education.]

Cultivated Spaniards of the eighteenth century had a clear understanding of the national problem of education, realizing (just as they did with regard to matters having an economic bearing) the profound ignorance of the masses and the decadent state of the institutions upon which they had to rely to combat it. The mass of the people were not only illiterate but also full of almost ineradicable superstitions and the conservatism of the undeveloped mind. In 1766 Queen Amalia, the wife of Charles III, wrote to Tanucci (one of Charles' leading ministers while he was king of Naples), "In everything (in Spain) there is something of barbarism, together with great pride." As for the women, she said, "One does not know what to talk about with them; their ignorance is beyond belief." This pessimistic view finds ample corroboration in the writings of the Benedictine Feyj?o, or Feij?o (1676-1764), and Jovellanos, both of whom devoted themselves to the struggle against the defects in Spanish mentality and its expression, leaving published works which touched upon virtually every phase of the intellectual life, or its lack, in the Iberian Peninsula. The endeavors of these men and numerous others to regenerate the country were not wholly in obedience to the national necessity or to patriotism, but responded also to the general current of humanitarianism and philanthropy characteristic of the eighteenth century. The close relationship of Spain with France during most of the era and the conditions of peace imposed by Protestant countries as a result of their military successes had favored the penetration of these ideas into Spain, where they were taken up by the well-to-do elements of the nobility, the clergy, and the wealthy middle class. The great nobles furnished few of the illustrious names of the period, although there were some exceptions (for example, the Count of Fern?n-N??ez and the Count of Aranda), but they gave both financial and moral support to the efforts for intellectual reform. Some of those who held high office, notably Godoy, aided authors in the publication of their works or the continuation of their studies, giving them official employment, or subsidies, or bringing out their volumes through the royal printing establishment. Despite the characterization of them by Queen Amalia, the women shared in the intellectual activities of the age. Thus there was a revival of interest in education, but with a difference from the spirit which had dominated the works of Vives and others of the Hapsburg era; now the ideal was that of secular education without the intervention of the clergy. Encyclopedism and monarchism worked together to this end, while the expulsion of the Jesuits helped greatly to make its attainment possible, although the new attitude did not go so far as to oppose religion; indeed, that remained the basis of primary education. All this manifested itself with especial force beginning with the reign of Charles III, but precedents were not lacking in earlier years. It made itself felt chiefly in the sphere of professional training, in instruction in the humanities, and in university education, but it did not fail to produce effects of undoubted value on the primary schools.


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