The Literature of the Spanish People: From Roman Times to the Present Day

By Gerald Brenan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XI
QUEVEDO AND GRACIÁN

THE poets and dramatists we have been considering in the last two chapters may be said to have owed their greatness to impulses that came down to them from the political and religious triumphs of the previous century. Although they lived in a period of increasing decline, they either, like Gόngora, deliberately turned their eyes away from it or, like Lope and his fellow dramatists, were too sunk in the enjoyment of their private lives to be aware of what was going on around them. The general temper of the country was one of intoxication with the thought of its national greatness, and few were capable of seeing that this was rapidly vanishing. The outstanding exception to this was Quevedo. Alone among the writers of his age he chose the painful course of living in the present and of warning his fellow countrymen by a steady stream of satires and denunciations of the ruin that was awaiting them. Even apart from his merits as a writer, this gives him a special claim to our attention, because our poets and novelists today have to face a similar predicament.

Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas was born in Madrid in 1580. His family came, like that of Lope de Vega, from La Montaña, the mountainous district to the north of Burgos which had been the cradle of the Castilian race and language. His worldly position was fortunate, for his father was the queen's secretary and his mother her lady-in-waiting. Yet his childhood was very unhappy. His father died soon after his birth and he was left to the care of governesses and tutors in the dreary atmosphere of Philip II's court. He had, besides, two physical disadvantages: he was lame, and so shortsighted that in order to see at all he was compelled to wear spectacles.

After some years in the Jesuit college of Madrid he went to the University of Alcalá, where he remained till he was twenty. Here

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