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

By Gerald Brenan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIII
THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

SPANISH literature entered on a long decline with the death of Calderon. For nearly two hundred years no writer of major importance, unless we include Moratín, made his appearance, and for sixty or seventy years scarcely a single book came out that can be read today except for its historical interest.

The first part of this period--from 1681 to 1760--was taken up with a struggle between the Spanish forms and ideas of the seventeenth century and the new ideas that came from France. The old forms had taken too strong a hold of the country to die easily, but they no longer had the vitality to inspire fresh works of interest. The new ideas of reason, simplicity and common sense that filtered across the Pyrenees were equally incapable of stirring the creative imagination. They took therefore a doctrinaire and propagandist tone and were put forward not so much by young poets and dramatists as by a tribe of critics, pamphleteers and men of erudition, who laid down rules and attacked abuses, but were themselves unable to give birth to a new literature.

The most important of these figures was Padre Benito Jerínimo Feijóo. He was a Benedictine monk from Galicia, born in 1676 and dying at an advanced age in 1764. He was a man of unusual intelligence and breadth of mind, who read several languages and was well versed in the scientific, philosophical and theological speculation of the day. In a series of papers, later published in book form as Teatro Crítico and Cartas Eruditas, he set out to attack the superstitions and absurd beliefs that had grown up in the course of the previous century and to bring a little light into the abysmal ignorance to which his countrymen had sunk. But he was not guided solely by French ideas: he drew his principal inspiration from Luis Vives, the Catalan humanist who had been the greatest of Erasmus' disciples. One may say that his aim was to lead Spain

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