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Naples, and Palermo had revolted; and the clergy, joining their despotic influence to that of the ministers, not only resisted the reform of existing abuses, but endeavoured to stifle every voice raised in complaint against them. Any reflection or indulgence of thought on politics or religion, was punished as a crime; and whilst under every other despotism actions alone and the exterior manifestation of opinion were visited by authority, in Spain the Monks sought to proscribe liberal sentiments even in the asylum of conscience.
Such are the effects which these reigns, so degrading to humanity, had on the literature which we are about to examine in this chapter. They are evident and indisputable; although this epoch is by no means the most barren in letters. The human mind retains for a long period any impulse it may have received: it is long before it can be reduced to a state of stagnation in its imprisoned mansion. It will accommodate itself rather than perish; and it sometimes sheds a radiance on a period when it has lost its just direction and its truth.
We have already noticed two celebrated men who lived principally under Philip II. and Philip III. We shall now contemplate one who reached the height of his fame under Philip IV. Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Calderon, bear the impress of their age; but their individual genius
greatly predominates, though the ancient traits of the national character were not entirely obliterated. Among the poets whom we shall notice in this chapter, we shall still find many authors of real merit, but always corrupted in their taste by their contemporaries and their government. It was not until the middle of the seventeenth century that the nation wholly declined; and its lethargic slumbers lasted till the middle of the eighteenth.
The Spaniards inherited from the Moors a forced, pompous, and inflated manner. They devoted themselves with ardour, from their first cultivation of letters, to the seductive style of the East, and their own character seemed in this respect to be confounded with that of the Asiatics; for before the conquests of the latter, all the Latin writers in Spain had exhibited, like Seneca, an inflated style and great affectation of sentiment. Lope de Vega himself was deeply tainted with their defects. With his astonishing fertility of genius, he found it more easy to adorn his poetry with concetti, and with daring and extravagant images, than to reflect on the propriety of his expressions, and to temper his imagination by reason and good taste. His example diffused amongst the poets of Spain a style of writing which seemed to harmonize with their character. It was that which Marini at the same time adopted in Italy. Marini, born in Naples, but
of a Spanish family, and educated amongst the Spaniards, was the first to communicate to Italy that affectation and false taste which was already observable in the early poetry of Juan de Mena. The school of the Seicentisti (or writers of the sixteenth century), which he had formed, was afterwards introduced into Spain, and produced there in a much greater degree than in Italy that pretension, affectation of style, and pédantic expression, which destroyed all taste; but in both countries the cause of this change is attributable to a higher source, and was the same in both. The poets had, in fact, preserved their genius, though they had lost the freedom of sentiment; they had retained the powers of imagination without any true direction for their genius; and their faculties, which no longer derived support from each other, or harmonized together, exhausted themselves in the only path which was left open to them.
The chief of this fantastic and affected school, who fixed its style, and who was desirous of forming a new epoch in art by a more refined culture, as he expressed it, was Luis Gongora de Argote, a man of great talent and genius, but who by his subtilty and false taste destroyed his own merit. He had too to struggle with misfortune and poverty. Born at Cordova in 1561, his brilliant course of study had not succeeded in procuring him an employ; and it was not until after
he had waited on the Court for eleven years, that he with difficulty obtained a small benefice. His discontent produced in him a vein of invective, which was long the principal merit of his verses, and his satirical sonnets are excessively caustic, as we may perceive by the following, on the mode of life in Madrid.
Circean cup, and Epicurus' sty;
Vast broods of harpies fattening on our purse;
Vexation; spies who swear the air will lie;
Processions, lackeys, footmen mounted high,
Coaching the way; new fashions always worse,
A thousand modes,-with unflesh'd swords, the curse Of citizens, not foes;-loquacity
Of female tongues; impostures of all kind,
From courts to cabarets; lies made for sale,
Una vida bestial de encantamiento,
Carrozas y lacayos, pages ciento,
His success was still greater in burlesque satires, in the form of romances or songs. In these his language and versification exhibited precision and clearness, and the natural expression did not betray any affinity to the affected school which he afterwards adopted. It was by cool reflection, and not in the warmth of an imagination still young, that he invented for poetry a more elevated style, which he denominated the cultivated style. To this end he formed, with the utmost labour and research, a language affected, obscure, and ridiculously allegorical, and totally at variance with the common manner of speaking and writing. He endeavoured, moreover, to introduce into the Spanish language the boldest inversions of the Greek and Latin, in a way never before permitted; he invented a particular punctuation to assist in ascertaining the sense of his verses, and sought for the most uncommon words, or altered the sense of those already in use, to give new attraction to his style. At the same time he carefully consulted mythology in order
Mentiras arbitreras, abogados,
Hombres de guerra medio estropeados,
Esto es Madrid, mejor dixera infierno.