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Aut. I. Some Account of the Lives and Writings of Lope Felix de P ega Carpio, and Guillen de Castro. By Henry Richard Lord Holland. 2 vols. London. 1817.
"VTO name among the Spanish poets is so generally known out of -*-^ its own country as that of Lope de Vega, but it is only the name; and perhaps no author whose reputation is so widely extended has been so little read. The good fortune, however, of this 'phoenix of Spain' has not wholly forsaken him, and he has been as happy now in a biographer, as he was during his life in obtaining the patronage of the great, and the favour of the public.
This celebrated man was born at Madrid on the 25th of November, 1562: both his parents were persons of good family in that city, and the father, according to the son's testimony, was deserving of praise as a poet: it may, indeed, frequently be noticed, that an aptitude for metre is hereditary, like that for drawing, or the more analogous art of music. At five years of age young Lope is said to have composed verses, and exchanged them with hit school-fellows for prints and sweetmeats:—school-boys in Spain must be very different from those in other parts of the world, if such wares were saleable among them. It is said also, that at this early age he could read Latin; and that at eleven he was master of the Latin idiom, with rhetoric, eloquence, and poetry:—but however complete his classical education may have been thought, the Latin verses which he ventured to publish in after-life would not have passed muster in the fourth form at Westminster. He was taught also to dance, to sing, and to fence. When he was about fourteen he ran away from school, being actuated, according to his friend and eulogist, Montalvan, by a restless desire of seeing the world—; another biographer, with more propriety, hints at this as one of the vagaries and scrapes of his youth. One of his school-fellows accompanied him in his elopement; they bought a mule at Segovia, and got as far as Astorga before they perceived that the state of their finances made it prudent for them to return home. This measure, which in itself was not very palatable, was accelerated by an unpleasant adventure at Segovia on their way back. Having offered some trinkets for sale, the tradesman to whom they applied took them before a magistrate upon a suspicion that they had stolen them, and the magistrate, with a moderation which, from the
Vol. Xviii. Mo. xxxv. A praise praise bestowed on it, appears not to have been usual at that time, sent them home under the care of a constable.
After this we tind Lope de Vega mentioned as an orphan, without any friend to whom he might look for support, or any means of supporting himself. He obtained, however, the patronage of the inquisitor general D. Geronymo Manrique, bishop of Seville, and composed sundry eclogues to his honour;—under this patronage probably it was that he was enabled to study philosophy, such as was taught at Alcala, and to graduate at that university. The Duke of Alva then took him into his service, as secretary :—whether this was the old duke or his successor, is said by Nicolao Antonio to be uncertain ; it was most probably the former, for the duke's death did not take place till the year 1583, and as Lope remained only four years at Alcala, he must have quitted it two or three years before that event. His Arcadia is said to have been written at the desir* of this patron, and hence also an argument may be drawn that it was the father and not the son, in whose service he was engaged, for the work which was then written appears not to have been licensed and published till 1.598, the death of the patron being the apparent cause of this delay. Alva's name is written for everlasting infamy in the history of the Low Countries: he was one whose stern and inexorable nature made him capable of cruelties to which he was instigated by a mistaken sense of duty, and an implicit faith in an abominable superstition. Thus it is that while in other parts of Europe he is named always as a monster of faithlessness and inhumanity, in his own country he is remembered only for his great qualities, his signal services, and his redeeming virtues.* Lope de Vega regarded him with unfeigned admiration, and speaks of him accordingly in terms of the highest eulogium, where there is no
* Lope de Vega placed his panegyric in the mouth of the magician Dardanio, one of the personages in the Arcadia. The magician is exhibiting certain statues in Ills cavern, and relating prophetically whom they represent. 'This last,' he says, 1 whose grey head is adorned by the ever verdant leaves of the ungrateful Daphne, merited by so many victories, is the immortal soldier Don Fernando de Toledo, Duke of Alv a, so justly worthy of that Fame which you behold lifting herself to Heaven from the plumes of the helmet, with the trump of gold, through which for ever she will proclaim his exploits and spread his name from Spanish Tagus to the African Mutazend, and from the Neapolitan Sabeto to the French Garonne. This will be Pompilius in religion, Radamanthus in severity, Belisarius in his guerdon, Anaxagoras in constancy, Epamiuondas in magnanimity, Themistocles in the love of his country, Periander in wedlock, Pomponius m veracity, Alexander Severus in justice, Attilius (Regulus) in fidelity, Cato in modesty, and finally Timotheus in the felicity which attended all his wars.'-—This is a good specimen of the style in which the Arcadia is written. The inscription under the statue i* curious,—its play upon words renders it untranslatable.
De tal Sol nacio mi llama Sin ver jamas rostro al miedo
Y de tal Aim sali, Hize con mi esfuerzo solo
Y a mi Reif tarn bien servi Sonar con Austria su Polo,
reason to doubt the sincerity of his praise. At this time, and perhaps enabled by this patronage, he married Doria Isabel Diaz de Urbina, a woman of quality. Their domestic happiness was soon interrupted ;—roused by certain sarcasms against his writings, Lope revenged himself upon his critic by a stinging satire. No men have ever shown themselves sorer under such castigation than those who have in a similar manner deserved it;—the critic challenged the satirist, and found him as much master of the sword as he was of the pen; he was left dangerously wounded, and Lope in consequence was fain to fly from Madrid. Valencia was the place of his retreat; there he was compelled to remain some years separated from his wife; and when after so painful a separation and so anxious a state of long protracted hope he had at last rejoined her at Madrid, she died in the course of a few months.
The death of this lady was celebrated in an eclogue remarkable as being the joint composition of Pedro de Medina Medinilla and Lope himself, each speaking in his own character, though under an assumed name—one as the widowed husband, the other as his sympathizing friend. To complete the singularity of such a composition, it is a close imitation of other Spanish poets, and in many parts a cento of expressions and whole lines, adapted from their works. Strange and artificial as this mode of composing must appear upon such a subject, the poem nevertheless is Written with a power and passion which atone not only for this but for its hyperbolical language, its violent metaphors, and its pastoral form.
'If,' says the noble biographer, ' there beany truth in the supposition that poets have a greater portion of sensibility in their frames than other men, it is fortunate that they are furnished by the nature of their occupations with the means of withdrawing themselves from its effects. The act of composition, especially of verse, abstracts the mind most powerfully from external objects. The poet therefor* has always a refuge within reach ; by inventing fictitious distresses, he may be blunting the poignancy of real grief; while he is raising the affections ol his readers, he may be allaying the violence of his own, and thus find an emblem of his own susceptibility of impression in that poetical spear which is represented as curing with one end the wounds it had inflicted with the other. Whether this fanciful theory be true or not, it is certain that poets have continued their pursuits with ardour under the pressure of calamity.'
Such are Lord Holland's remarks upon this part of Lope de Vega's history; and it is indeed certain that minds are elastic in proportion as they are active; and that the more buoyant the spirit the better is it able to bear the bufferings which it must meet with upon this rude sea of life. But when he proceeds to instance Ovid as an illustration of this theory, because banishment 'riveted him
A a to to the habits of composition, and taught him to seek for consolation where he had hitherto only found amusement,' his choice is not fortunate; the case is rather that of a feeble mind vainly indulging and thereby prolonging its sorrows, than of a strong one which struggles against them and surmounts them. Had Ovid employed the years of his exile in studying and faithfully describing the manners of the people among whom he was cast, he would have been far more happily as well as more usefully employed, than in pouring forth his querulous regret. One treatise upon this important subject, though it had not been longer than that of Tacitus concerning the Germans, would have been worth whole volumes of Tristia.
Lope de Vega's was a manlier spirit. Lord Holland, following the Spanish biographer, represents him as flying from his sorrows, seeking for a situation in which external objects might, as far as possible, distract him from himself, and for this purpose entering as a volunteer in the Armada. It is remarkable that his lordship, who refers almost immediately afterwards to the Egloga a Claudio, should not have perceived that Lope gives a very different account of his own motives. There it appears that he became a soldier, not in consequence of grief for the loss of his wife, but because of the rigour of his mistress: Phillis had banished him; for this reason he wished to change climate and element; and marching to Lisbon with a musket on his shoulder, he tore up for cartridges the verses which he had written in her praise.*
The success of the Armada against England was expected witli the most exultant anticipation by the Spaniards. Of the many instances which might be given of this confident hope, two may suffice. The first is from an Ode by Luis de Gongora. liaise thy renowned hand, O Spain, from French Pyrene, to the land Where the Moor Atlas lifts his mountain height, And at the martial trumpet's lofty sound Bid thou thy valiant offspring cluster round Beneath thy old victorious banners, bright In hardest adamant, a fearful sight,—
Such that the lands of languid power,
* Joven me viste, y vistemc soldado,
De cielo j de elemento,
Y el cisne Amor, et'eto de su cspuma
Mas luego a Marte en mi defcnsa norabr*,
V paso entre la geate Castellana
YA arcabiu al hoiubro,
Volaudo t'll lacos del canon violento
Los pnpelts de Filis por ct viuitu.
AtAt the strong radiance of their beamy arms,
At the fierce splendour of the falchion blade,
Before the luminous and golden fire
With restless woods hast thou
Collected in their numbers now
Of heaven, to fill their sails.
And rich with ruins of the fray
Waft their wreck'd navies o'er, And tattered banners, thy triumphal boast, And dash her slaughtered sons upon thy coast, Illustrating thy ports and trophied shore.* The oilier instance is in a child's poem, or more properly a poem written in the character of a child; a species of playful composition which was at that time popular among the Spaniards. A little girl is speaking to her play-fellow, and she tells him
* A la Armada que el Rey Felipe Segundo, nuestro Señor, embio contra Inglaterra,
Levanta España to famosa Diestra El Seno undoso al humido Neptuno,
Desde el Frances Pirene, al Moro Atlante, De Selvas inquietas has poblado,
Y al ronco son de Trompas belicosas, Y qnantos en tus Revnos uno á uno
Tal, que las flacamente poderosas Que a tanto leño el humido Elemento,
Tierras, Naciones contra su Fe armadas, Y a tanta Vela es poco todo el Viento.
Al claro resplandor de sus Espadas, Fia que en Sangre del Ingles Pirata
Y a la de tus Ameses iicra lumbre, Teñira de Escarlata
^ como al Sol las Nieblas se resuelvan, Y aunque de lew» con rigor traídas,
0 qual la blanda Cera desatados, Ilustrará tus Playas y tus Puertos
A los dorados luminosos Fuegus De V anderas rompidas.
De los Yelmos gravados, De Naves destrozadas, de Hombres muer
Queden como de Fé, de Vista ciegos. tos.
Tu, que Cor Zelo pio, y noble Saña,
Obras de Gongora, p. 180. Brussels, 1659.