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A History of Spain by Charles E. Chapman

The greatest of the neo classicists was Ignacio de Luz?n


Milton. So devoted were the

Spanish neo-classicists to their trans-Pyrenean models that they were unable to see any value in the great Spanish works of the _siglo de oro_, especially those of the dramatists. They went so far as to propose the expulsion of the national drama from the Spanish stage (except such works as could be arranged according to neo-classic tastes) and the substitution of plays from the French and Italian. Among their tenets were that of the three unities (of time, place, and action) and one which required that the action should be reduced to the amount of time it took to represent it. The greatest of the neo-classicists was Ignacio de Luz?n, whose _Po?tica_, or Poetics (1737), was the highest and most creditable example of the doctrine of his school. Naturally, if only from motives of patriotism, a group of nationalistic authors sprang up in opposition to the neo-classicists and in defence of the Spanish literature of the preceding era, but the French influence was so strong that even this group was much affected by the precepts of the new school. The public remained faithful to the national writers of the _siglo de oro_, whose plays formed the principal element in theatrical representations. Abroad, Spanish writers of the golden age still enjoyed a repute which their countrymen were seeking to deny them. English and German writers continued to translate or avail themselves of the works of Cervantes and the picaresque novels, while the _Gil Blas_ of the Frenchman Lesage was a clear-cut,
if brilliant, imitation of Spanish models. The expulsion of the Jesuits, who took up their residence in Italy, helped to convert Italy from the Hispanophobe attitude which in company with France she had maintained with regard to Spanish literature, for the more learned Jesuits were able to demonstrate the false basis of this feeling, both by their own works, and by their exposition of the merits of the Spanish writers of the past. The German Humboldt and the Frenchman Beaumarchais, both of them men of wide reputation, also took up cudgels in defence of Spain.

[Sidenote: Achievements of the era in polite literature.]

Despite the vigorous conflict of the two schools of literature, Spain was unable to produce writers who could rank with those of the _siglo de oro_. Epic poetry practically did not exist; oratorical literature, whether secular or religious, was of slight account; and only one notable novel appeared in the century, the _Fray Gerundio_ (Brother Gerund) of the Jesuit Isla. This work, which aimed to ridicule the sacred oratory of the times, was nevertheless defective in that it introduced much material foreign to the narrative, but it was in excellent Spanish and teeming with witty passages. Both in this work, and in his translation of Lesage's _Gil Blas_, Isla won a place along with Feyj?o as one of the best writers of the day in the handling of Spanish prose. There were several notable lyric poets, such as Mel?ndez Vald?s, Nicol?s Fern?ndez de Morat?n (usually termed Morat?n rather than Fern?ndez), the latter's son Leandro, and Quintana. Except for the younger Morat?n all belonged to the patriotic Spanish school. Quintana, with his philanthropic and liberal note, his solemn, brilliant, and pompous style, and the rigidity and coldness of his classical rhetoric, was perhaps the most typical representative of the age. The most marked achievements in the field of _belles lettres_ were in the drama. At the beginning of the century Spanish theatres had been closed as the result of a moral wave which left only the great cities, like Madrid, Barcelona, C?diz, and Valencia, with an opportunity to attend dramatical representations. The entry of French influences and the polemics to which they gave rise led to a revival of the drama, until it became the favorite form of literature with both the public and the writers. Only four dramatists may be said to have displayed unquestioned merits: Garc?a de la Huerta, who employed a mixture of the old Spanish methods with the newer French; the younger Morat?n, the most distinguished representative of the French school; Ram?n de la Cruz, who depicted the life of the Spanish people, and for the first time placed the customs of the Madrid proletariat on the Spanish stage; and Gonz?lez del Castillo, a worthy rival of the last-named in the same field. This was an era of great actors, both men and women.


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