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OF THE STATE OF LITERATURE IN SPAIN BEFORE THE ERA OF THE REFORMATION.
HAVING taken a general survey of the state of religion in Spain before the Reformation, let us look back for a little and trace the restoration of letters, which opened the prospect of a better order of things in that country. The learning of Isidore, archbishop of Seville, who flourished in the seventh century, and next to St. James, is venerated by the Spaniards as a tutelary saint, rests on a better foundation than the encomium of Gregory the Great, who called him a second Daniel. Besides various theological and historical treatises, he composed a work on etymology, which, though disfigured by errors, discovers a considerable portion of philological knowledge, and contributed to check the barbarism which had already invaded every country in Europe. But ages of darkness succeeded, during which, while the name of St. Isidore was held in veneration, his works were disregarded, by an ignorant priesthood, into whose hands the key of knowledge had fallen.
It is not to the credit of Christianity, or at least of those who professed it, that, during the middle ages, letters were preserved from extinction, and even revived from the decline which had seized them, by the exertions of the followers of Mahomet. The tenth century, which has been denominated the leaden age of Europe, was the golden age of Asia. Modern writers have perhaps gone to an extreme on both sides in forming their estimate of the degree in which European literature is indebted to the Arabians. But when we find that this people have left such evident marks of their language upon that of Spain, it seems unreasonable to doubt that they had also great influence upon its literature. Cordova, Granada, and Seville, rivalled one another in the magnificence of their schools and libraries, during the empire of the Saracens, who granted to the Spanish Christians, whom they had subjugated, that protection in their religious rights, which the latter were far from imitating when they in their turn became the conquerors. The two languages were spoken in common. The Christians began to vie with their masters in the pursuit of science, composed commentaries on the scriptures in Arabic, and transfused the beauties of eastern poetry into the Castilian language. It is even said, that a bishop of Seville, at this early period, translated the scriptures into the Arabic tongue. f97 If the Spanish language was in danger of suffering from the predominance of the Arabians, the evil was counteracted by the cultivation of Provençal poetry. In the twelfth century, Alfonso II. of Aragon, whose name has an honorable place among the Troubadours, zealously patronized those who wrote in the Catalonian or Valencian dialect. In the subsequent century, Alfonso X. of Castile, surnamed the Wise, showed himself equally zealous in encouraging the study of the Castilian tongue, in which he wrote several poems; at the same time that he extracted the knowledge which was to be found in the books of the Arabians; as appears, among other proofs, from the astronomical tables, called from him Alphonsine. the writings of Dante, Checo Dascoli, and Petrarch, gave a new impulse to the literature of Spain. From this period the study of the ancient classics imparted greater purity and elevation to works of imagination; and a taste for poetical compositions in their native tongue began to be felt by the Spanish gentry, who had hitherto found their sole pastime in arms and military tournaments. Among those who distinguished themselves by improving the taste of their countrymen in the first part of the fifteenth century, were two persons of illustrious birth, in whose families the love of learning was long hereditary. Henry of Aragon, marquis of Villena, descended from the royal houses of Aragon and Castile, revived the Consistorio de la Gaya Sciencia , an academy situated at Barcelona for the encouragement of poetry, of which he was the president. His superior knowledge, combined perhaps with a portion of that learned credulity of which those who addicted themselves to astronomy and experimental science during the middle ages were often the dupes, brought on him the suspicion of necromancy. In consequence of this, his books were seized after his death, by the orders of Juan II. king of Castile, and sent for examination to Lope de Barrientos, a Dominican monk of considerable learning, and preceptor to the prince of Asturias. “Barrientos,” says a contemporary writer, “liking better to walk with the prince than to revise necroman-cies, committed to the flames upwards of a hundred volumes, without having examined them any more than the king of Morocco, or understood a jot of their contents more than the dean of Ciudad Rodrigo. There are many in the present day,” continues he, “who become learned men, by pronouncing others fools and magicians; and what is worse, make themselves saints, by stigmatizing others as sorcerers.” This indignity done to the memory of “the ornament of Spain and of the age,” was bewailed, both in verse and prose, by writers of that time. f101 Equally learned as Villena, but more fortunate in preserving his good name and his books, was Inigo Lopez de Mendoza, marquis of Santillana, who, in a treatise, intended as a preface to his own poetical works, has acted the part of historian to his countrymen who preceded him in paying court to the muse. The merits of both marquises have been celebrated by the pen of Juan de Mena, unquestionably the first Spanish poet of that age.
It is not unworthy of remark here, that the Jews, while they enjoyed protection in Spain, co-operated with the Christians in the cultivation of polite letters. Rabbi Don Santo, who flourished about the year 1360, makes the following modest and not inelegant apology for taking his place among the poets of the land which had given him birth:— The rose that twines a thorny sprig, Will not the less perfume the earth; Good wine, that leaves a creeping twig, Is not the worse for humble birth.
The hawk may be of noble kind, That from a filthy aiery flew; And precepts are not less refined, Because they issue from a Jew.f103 Long after their expulsion from Spain, the Jews cherished an ardent attachment to the Castilian tongue, in which they continued to compose works both in prose and verse. f104 On looking into the writings of the ancient Spanish poets, we are induced to conclude, that they were not in the habit of using those liberties with the church and clergy which were indulged in by the poets of Italy and the Troubadours of Provence. There is reason however to think, that the absence of these satires is to be accounted for, in no small degree, by the prudence of the editors of their works, and the vigilance of the censors of the press, after the invention of printing. Accordingly, of later years, since the severity of the Inquisition relaxed, and a passion to do justice to their literary antiquities has been felt by the Spaniards, poems have been brought to the light, though still with much caution, which two centuries ago would have earned for their learned editors a perpetual prison. The poems of Juan Ruiz, archpriest of Hita, who flourished in the middle of the fourteenth century, contain severe satires on the avarice and loose manners of the clergy. He represents money as opening the gates of Paradise, purchasing salvation to the people, and benefices to priests; as equally powerful at the court of Rome and elsewhere, with the pope and all orders of the clergy, secular and regular; as converting a lie into the truth, and the truth into a lie. In another poem he is as severe against the manners of the clergy, whom he describes as living avowedly in concubinage. He represents Don Gil de Albornoz, archbishop of Talavera, as having procured a mandate from the pope, ordering all his clergy to put away their wives or concubines whom they kept in their houses, under the pain of excommunication. When this mandate was read to them in a public assembly, it excited a warm opposition; violent speeches were made against it by the dean and others; some of them declared that they would sooner part with their dignities; and it was finally agreed that they should appeal from the pope to the king of Castile. f107 About the middle of the fifteenth century, literature was advanced under the patronage of Alfonso V. of Aragon. The education of this monarch had been neglected, and the early part of his life was spent in arms; but at fifty years of age he applied himself to study with such eagerness that he was soon able to read with ease the Roman classics, which became his constant companions. He disputed with the house of Medici the honor of entertaining men of letters, and rescuing the writings of antiquity from oblivion. When he had taken a town, his soldiers could not do the prince a greater pleasure than to bring him a book which they had discovered among the spoils; and Cosmo de’ Medici, by the present of an ancient manuscript, procured from him a treaty highly favorable to Florence.
Anthony of Palermo, usually styled Panormitanus, who wrote the history of his life, resided at his court in great honor; and Laurentius Valla, one of the most profound and elegant scholars of that age, when persecuted for the freedom of his opinions, was protected by Alfonso at Naples, where he opened a school for Greek and Roman eloquence. f109 Alfonso de Palencia, having visited Italy, became acquainted with cardinal Bessarion, and attended the lectures which the learned Greek Trapezuntius delivered on eloquence and his native tongue. On his return to Spain, he was made historiographer to Henry IV. of Castile, and afterwards to queen Isabella; and by his translations from Greek into the Castilian language, as well as by a work on grammar, excited a taste for letters among his countrymen. He was followed by Antonio de Lebrixa, usually styled Nebrissensis, who became to Spain what Valla was to Italy, Erasmus to Germany, and Bude to France. After a residence of ten years in Italy, during which he had stored his mind with various kinds of knowledge, he returned home in 1473, by the advice of the younger Philelphus and Hermolaus Barbarus, with the view of promoting classical learning in his native country. Hitherto the revival of letters in Spain was confined to a few inquisitive individuals, and had not reached the schools and universities, whose teachers continued to teach a barbarous jargon, under the name of Latin, into which they initiated the youth by means of a rude system of grammar, rendered unintelligible, in some instances, by a preposterous intermixture of the most abstruse questions in metaphysics. By the lectures which he read in the universities of Seville, Salamanca, and Alcala, and by the institutes which he published on Castilian, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew grammar, Lebrixa contributed in a wonderful degree to expel barbarism from the seats of education, and to diffuse a taste for elegant and useful studies among his countrymen. His improvements were warmly opposed by the monks, who had engrossed the art of teaching, and who unable to bear the light themselves, wished to prevent all others from seeing it; but, enjoying the support of persons of high authority, he disregarded their selfish and ignorant outcries. f113 Lebrixa continued, to an advanced age, to support the literary reputation of his native country. During his residence at Salamanca, he was joined by three able coadjutors. The first was Arius Barbosa, a Portuguese, who had studied under the elegant Italian scholar, Angelo Politiano, and was equally skilled in Greek as Lebrixa was in Latin. The second was Lucio Marineo, a native of Sicily, who, in 1485, accompanied the grand admiral of Castile into Spain, and began to read lectures on poetry. The third was Peter Martyr of Anghiera, to whose letters we are indebted for some interesting particulars respecting the state of literature in Spain, along with much valuable information on the political transactions of that country, and the affairs of the New World. In 1488, he was persuaded to leave Italy by the conde de Tendilla, who inherited that love of letters which had distinguished his illustrious ancestor, the marquis of Santillana. Martyr commenced his literary career in Spain, by reading, with great applause, a lecture on one of the satires of Juvenal, at Salamanca; but he was soon called from that station to an employment of higher responsibility, for which he was eminently qualified. Under the patronage, and at the earnest desire of queen Isabella, who had herself taken lessons from Lebrixa, he undertook to superintend the education of the sons of the principal nobility, with the view of rooting out an opinion almost universally prevalent among persons of that order in Spain, that learning unfitted them for military affairs, in which they placed all their glory. The school was accordingly opened at court, not without a flattering prospect of success. But Spain was destined to exhaust her energies in gratifying the mad ambition for conquest of a succession of princes, and then to sink into inactivity under the benumbing influence of superstition and despotism. Finding the prejudice against education, in the minds of his pupils, more inveterate than he had anticipated, Martyr accepted of a political appointment; and the plan for inspiring the nobility with the love of polite letters, was abandoned soon after it had been begun under such good auspices. f117 In the mean time, the passion for learning spread from Salamanca to the other universities of the kingdom. In the beginning of the sixteenth century, Francesco Ximenes, at that time archbishop of Toledo, restored and enlarged the university of Alcala de Henares, in which he founded a trilingual college. To acquire celebrity to his favorite institution he procured learned teachers to fill its chairs, among whom were Demetrius Ducas and Nicetas Phaustus, two natives of Greece, and Fernando Nunez, a descendant of the noble house of Guzman. The latter, who had sacrificed his prospect of civil honors to the love of study, was inferior to none of his learned countrymen, and has left behind him a name in the republic of letters. f119 Living in the midst of Jews and Moors, and frequently engaged in controversy with them on their respective creeds, the Christians in Spain had better opportunities and a more powerful stimulus to study the oriental languages, than their brethren in other parts of Europe. About the middle of the thirteenth century, Raymond de Pennaforte, general of the Dominicans, persuaded Juan I. king of Aragon, to appropriate funds for the education of young men who might be qualified for entering the lists in argument with Jews and Mahometans. And in 1259 it was appointed, at a general chapter of the Dominicans held in Valencia, that the prior of that order in Spain should see to the erection of a school for Arabic, at Barcelona or elsewhere. From this school proceeded several individuals who distinguished themselves as disputants, both orally and by writing.
Among the latter was Raymond Martini, the author of Pugio Fidei , or Poignard of the Faith against Jews and Moors ; a work which discovers no contemptible acquaintance with the Hebrew language, and with the Rabbinical writings, which it quotes and comments upon in the original. f122 To the attention paid to the oriental tongues in Spain may be traced the decree of the council of Vienne, held under pope Clement V. in the year 1311, which ordained that Hebrew, Chaldee, and Arabic, should be taught in whatever place the pontifical court might be held, and in the universities of Bologna, Paris, Oxford, and Salamanca. f123 The ardor with which these studies were prosecuted, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, led to the publication of the famous Complutensian Polyglot. This chef d’oeuvre of Spanish erudition was executed under the patronage and at the expense of cardinal Ximenes, then archbishop of Toledo; a prelate whose pretensions to learning were slender, but whose ambition prompted him to seek distinction equally in the convent, the academy, the cabinet, and the field. In imitation of the celebrated Origen, he projected an edition of the Bible in various languages, and expended large sums of money in supporting the learned men who were engaged in the undertaking, purchasing manuscripts for their use, and providing the requisite printers and types. The work commenced in the year 1502, and the printing was finished in 1517, in six volumes folio, at the press of Complutum, or Alcala de Henares. The Old Testament contained the original Hebrew text, the Vulgate or Latin version of Jerome, and the Greek version of the Septuagint, arranged in three columns; and at the foot of each page of the Pentateuch was printed the Chaldee paraphrase of Onkelos, accompanied with a Latin translation. The New Testament contained the original Greek, and the Vulgate Latin version. To the whole were added a grammar and dictionary of the Hebrew language, and a Greek lexicon or vocabulary, with some other explanatory treatises. John Brocar, the son of the printer, was accustomed to relate, that when the last sheet came from the press, he, being then a boy, was sent in his best clothes with a copy of it to the cardinal, who gave thanks to God for sparing him to that day, and turning to his attendants, said that he congratulated himself on the completion of that work more than on any of the acts which had distinguished his administration. f126 Spanish writers have been too lavish of their encomiums on the Polyglot of Alcala. The Hebrew and Greek manuscripts employed by its compilers were neither numerous nor ancient; and instead of correcting the text of the Septuagint from the copies which were in their possession, they made alterations of their own, with the view of adapting it to the Hebrew text.
Some of the learned men who labored in this work, must have been ashamed of the following specimen of puerile devotion to the Vulgate, which occurs in one of the prologues written in the name of Ximenes.
Speaking of the order in which the matter is disposed in the columns, he says: “We have put the version of St. Jerome between the Hebrew and Septuagint, as between the synagogue and eastern church, which are like the two thieves, the one on the right and the other on the left hand, and Jesus, that is, the Roman church, in the middle: for this alone, being founded upon a solid rock, remains always immovable in the truth, while the others deviate from the proper sense of scripture.” But notwithstanding these defects, when we consider the period at which it was composed, and the example which it held out, we cannot hesitate in affirming that this work reflects great credit on its authors, and on the munificence of the prelate at whose expense it was executed.
The Arabic language was also cultivated at this time by some individuals in Spain. This branch of study was zealously patronized by Fernando de Talavera, who, after the overthrow of the Moorish kingdom, was appointed the first archbishop of Granada. This pious and amiable prelate, being desirous of converting the Moors who resided in his diocese by gentle and rational methods, and consequently of promoting the knowledge of Christianity among them, encouraged the clergy under his charge to make themselves masters of the Arabian tongue. With the view of assisting them in this task, he employed his chaplain, Pedro de Alcala, a Hieronymite monk, to draw up an Arabic grammar, vocabulary, and catechism containing the first rudiments of Christian doctrine, for the use of parish priests and catechists; which were the first books ever printed in that language. In order the more effectually to promote the same object, the archbishop caused the religious service to be performed in their vernacular tongue, to such of the Moors as had submitted to baptism, or were willing to be instructed; and, accordingly, Arabic translations of the collects from the Gospels and Epistles were also made by his orders. It was his intention to have the whole scriptures translated into that language, agreeably to what is said to have been done at an early period of the Moorish dominion in Spain. f130 These measures, which were applauded by all enlightened men, met with the strenuous opposition of cardinal Ximenes, who, while he wished to be regarded as the patron of learning, was a determined enemy to the progress of knowledge. The archbishop had appealed to the authority of St. Paul, who said, “In the church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue.” But the cardinal pleaded that the times were changed, and appealed to St. Peter. To put the sacred oracles into the hands of those who were but newly initiated into our religion, was, in his opinion, to throw pearls before swine. Nor did he think it a whit safer to intrust the old Christians with this treasure; for, (added he, changing the metaphor,) in this old age of the world, when religion is so far degenerated from that purity which prevailed in the time of St. Paul, the vulgar are in danger of wresting the scriptures to their destruction. Knowing that the common people are inclined to revere what is concealed, and to despise what is known, the wisest nations have always kept them at a distance from the mysteries of religion. Books written by men of approved piety, and calculated, by the examples which they propose, or by the fervor of their style, to raise the dejected, and recall the minds of men from the things of sense to divine contemplation, might be safely circulated in the vulgar tongue; and it was the cardinal’s intention, as soon as he found leisure, to publish some works of this description; but the sacred scriptures ought to be exclusively preserved in the three languages in which the inscription on our Saviour’s cross was written; and if ever this rule should be neglected, the most pernicious effects would ensue. This opinion, which is merely a commentary on the favorite maxim of the church of Rome, that ignorance is the mother of devotion, has met with the warm approbation of his biographer, and was afterwards produced as a proof of his prophetic gift, along with his miracles, in the application which the Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso made to the papal court for his canonization. The arguments of Ximenes were not of a kind to carry conviction to the minds of those who favored enlightened measures; but they were the arguments of a man who, unfortunately for the best interests of Spain, had even then acquired great influence in the councils of government, and continued for many years to have the chief direction of the affairs of the nation, both civil and ecclesiastical. The books which the cardinal had promised as a substitute for the Gospels and Epistles made their appearance, consisting of treatises of mystic or rather monastic devotion, and the lives of some of its most high-flying zealots, both male and female; such as, the Letters of Santa Catalina de Sena, of Santa Angela de Fulgino, and of Santa Matilda, the Degrees of San Juan Climaco, the Instructions of San Vicente Ferrer, and of Santa Clara, the Meditations of the Carthusian Thomas Landulpho, and the Life of St. Thomas a Becket, archbishop of Canterbury. f134 The opposition of Ximenes, and the violent and impolitic measures which the government adopted against the Jews and Moors, checked the cultivation of oriental literature to such a degree, that, in the year 1535, when an enthusiastic scholar visited Spain, he found Hebrew neglected, and could not met with a single native acquainted with Arabic, except the venerable Nunez, who still recollected the characters of a language to which he had paid some attention in his youth. f135 A translation of the scriptures into Spanish, of which I shall afterwards speak, had probably little influence in preparing for the introduction of the reformed opinions, as all the copies of it appear to have been destroyed soon after it came from the press. Considerable light was thrown upon the sacred writings by those who studied them in the original languages, at the close of the fifteenth and beginning of the sixteenth century. Pablo de San Maria of Burgos, commonly called Paulus Burgensis, a converted Jew, discovered the same acquaintance with Hebrew which distinguishes the Postilla, or notes on scripture, by Nicolas de Lira, to which he made additions. Alfonso Tostado, bishop of Avila, who wrote commentaries on the historical books of the Old Testament, and on Matthew, had formed correct notions of the literal and proper sense of scripture, and of the duty of an interpreter to adhere to it in opposition to the method of the allegorizing divines; but he swelled his works to an immoderate bulk, by indulging in digressions on common places. Pedro de Osma, professor of theology at Salamanca, employed his talents in correcting the original text of the New Testament, by a critical collation of different manuscripts.
He displayed the same freedom of opinion on doctrinal points; and in was forced to abjure eight propositions relating to the power of the pope, and the sacrament of penance, which were extracted from a book written by him on Confession, and condemned as erroneous by a council held at Alcala. Besides his services in the cause of polite literature, Antonio Lebrixa wrote several works illustrative of the scriptures, for which he was brought before the Inquisition, and would have incurred the same censure as De Osma, had he not been so fortunate as to secure the protection of their Catholic Majesties. f139 By the labors of these men, together with the writings of their countryman Ludovicus Vives, who had settled in the Low Countries, and of his friend Erasmus, a salutary change was produced on the minds of the youth at the universities. They became disgusted at the barbarism of scholastic theology, read the scriptures for themselves, consulted them in the originals, and from these sources ventured to correct the errors of the Vulgate, and to expose the absurd and puerile interpretations which had so long passed current under the shade of ignorance and credulity.
Having put the reader in possession of the circumstances connected with the state of letters and knowledge which tended to facilitate the introduction of the reformed doctrine into Spain, I shall now take a view of the obstacles with which it had to contend, of which the most formidable by far was the Inquisition.