« PreviousContinue »
Vol. III. PART II.
ART.I.-Bibliotheca Hispana Vetus, sive Hispani Scriptores qui
ab Octaviani Augusti #vo ad Annum Christi, M.D. floruerunt.
Auctore, D. Nicolao Antonio, &c. Matriti, 1788. Biblivteca Española de D. Joseph Rodriguez de Castro. Madrid,
1786, tomo lo Mic. Casiri. Bibliotheca Arabico-Hispana Escurialensis. Matriti,
1760-70, 2 tom. Fo. L. J. Velasquez. Origenes de la Puesia Castellana. Malaga, 1754.
Of all the countries in Europe, Spain is, most decidedly, that whose literary history offers the greatest variety of interesting objects, and possesses, from the period at least of the decline of the Roman power, the richest materials to reward the inquiries of the antiquary, to keep alive the enthusiasm of the poet, and to give energy to the details of the chronicler. It is mainly in connexion with the Poetry of Spain, though without intending to confine ourselves wholly to that subject, that we propose to throw a hasty glance over those remote periods, where mists and darkness cover the history of our forefathers. In Spain, the spirit of song has been sufficient to its own immortality; and while the compositions of our bards are lost in the oblivion of long-since departed days, we may there trace the ever flowing stream of poetry through the vicissitudes of many ages. The
VOL. III. PART II.
mountains and the valleys which heard the voice of the Roman cithara, which resounded with the music of the Moorish atabal, and listened to the soft lyre of the amorous trobador, still echo with the simple and harmonious strains of the pipe and tabor, gathering the villages around their festive lay.' The different epochs of poetry have all left some fragments behind them,enough to enable us to determine their general character, and to trace, though sometimes doubtfully, the striking revolutions through which they have come down to us. These are, indeed, beautiful records of departed time,records, which perhaps derive some additional charms from the impressive reflection, that many and many a generation have passed by since those who sung and those who listened have been mingled with the clods of the valley. .
There are no fragments existing of Spanish poetry, of a date beyond the Christian era, and none in any of the vernacular dialects of the peninsula, older than eight or nine centuries. Siļius Italicus speaks of the verses sung by the Gallicians in their native language; “ barbara nunc patriis ululantem carmina linguis:" and Strabo, with an exaggeration but too common where the high claims of tradition are uncontrolled by the stern and sober authority of history, informs us that there were verses sung among the inhabitants of Betica, more than sixty centuries old. But far from possessing any specimens brought down to us from ages so remote, the very language in which they were written is unknown; for Astalroa and Larramendi, the unwearied and busy advocates of the antiquity and universality of the Cantabrian or Euscarian tongue, have certainly failed to convince the majority of their countrymen that the Biscayan provinces have preserved the speech of their forefathers in an uncorrupted state, from the tower of Babel, at all events, and probably from a period much more remote. If, however, the Latin poets of Cordoba, of whom Cicero speaks so contemptuously, formed their style on the national model, and may be considered as fair specimens of the Spanish versifiers, we shall be easily reconciled to the loss of their compositions. Many natives of Spain, notwithstanding, forming their taste by the great classical authorities whose language they spoke, and to the literature of whose country they perhaps more properly belong, occupy high places in the temple of poetic fame. The two Senecas and Lucan distinguished the first century;
Duosque Senecas, unicumque Lucanum
Facunda loquitur Corduba.*
* Martial, Ep. lxii. lib. i ; and Statius thus records the fame of Betica:
the latter of whom gives a representation of the subjects, which no doubt principally engaged the songs of his contemporary bards :
Vos quoque qui fortes animos belloque peremtos
Plurima securi fudistis carmina bardi. .. And such, indeed, are usually the themes which occupy the lyres of a warlike and half-barbarous age.* In the second century we find Martial, who frequently refers to other Spanish poets of his time. Lucius Annæus Florus was the relation (probably the fellow countryman) of the Senecas. With the exception of Zurita, all the Spanish biographers affirm that Silius Italicus was a native of Italica, though the contrary opinion of Vossius seems to rest on better ground. In the following centuries, we meet with Aurelius Prudentius and Juvenius Presbiteros, who translated the New Testament and the book of Génesis into Latin hexameters : the latter is probably the first of Christian writers, who has any claim to the title of a poet. There is something extremely affecting in the verses of Prudentius, when he reviews a long, weary, and almost profitless life; borne down by the re
Lucanum potes imputare terris
Grajo nobilior Melete Betis. .. Genethliacon.
M. Annæo Lucano
Servata, * Caius Julius Hyginus, the Grammarian, has been claimed by Vives, as a Spaniard; and the majority of his biographers have been satisfied with the proofs. Portius Ladro, whom M. Seneca calls the most serious, the most affable, and the most eloquent man of his time, was also a native of Spain. Marcus Annæus Novatus was of Cordoba ; and L. J. Moderatus Columela, of Cadiz. Of the work of the latter, de Re Rustica, Barthius, L. Nuñez, and Cassiodorus, speak in terms of great admiration. Quintillian, (if the testimony of the chronicles of Eusebius is worth any thing,) “ Quintilianus ex Hispania Calagurritanus," was born at Calahorra. Notwithstanding the prevalence of the contrary opinion, that he was a native of Rome, the title of Spaniard is asserted for him, with considerable force of evidence, by Nicolas Antonio.
collection of past“ vanity and vexation,” and reviving with the support of honest and holy resolution.
For time is ever hurrying on;
My youth beneath a master's rod
Days of lascivious pleasure came,
'Tis vanished all-in hurried fight-
Beam'd on me, what long years had flown;
But what doth this, all this, avail ?
'Twill then be said—Whoe'er thou be,
O! while thy sinful soul can cast
In sacred hymns employ the day,
O what a privilege, could I,
Thus burst, and breathing forth this language die !*
* Instat terminus, et diem
Ætas prima crepantibus
Infectum vitiis falsa loqui, non sine crimine:
names occupies the years which preceded the Gothic reigns. On these, the national pride and vanity of Spain love to linger—as the smallest star looks beautiful on a long and gloomy night. But they offer nothing which should detain us from a period, when the decline of literature, the effeminating consequences of a debilitating and womanish luxury, the false security of those who imagined that the heroism of their forefathers had done enough to entail the privileges and the rewards of valor on a careless and dissipated posterity, made way for the introduction of the sterner and more manly tribes of the north, who soon overspread the fairest and fruitfullest portions of Europe. These probably met with little resistance from the aboriginal inhabitants of Spain, who perhaps never were completely amalgamated with the Roman intruders; --and this may make it appear less surprising, that the Visigoths should so soon have firmly fixed themselves in the territory they invaded. They sympathized but little with the habits and the amusements of the subdued Romans. The circuses,
Et luxus petulans (heu pudet ac piget !)
Hæc dum vita volans agit;
Sub quo prima dies mihi
Numquid talia proderunt
Dicendum mihi, quisquis es :
Atque fine sub ultimo
Hymnis continuet dies
Carmen Martyribus devoveat :
Hæc dum scribo vel eloquor