Imágenes de páginas

the mantle of Hermes is bequeathed to Plato; and Rome rises into literary greatness when the world is beginning to retort upon the fallen Greeks the epithet of Barbarians. Even the darkness which succeeded the dissolution of the Roman empire was but temporary. The sun only set in Europe to rise in Asia-pale, indeed, and obscured for a time, under the lempestuous reigns of the immediate successors of Mahomet, but regaining its brightness under Al Raschid and Al Maimoun. Knowledge had only completed its circle; and the Western world was a second time to receive from the East the seeds of improvement and the elements of greatress.

The rapid growth of Arabian literature is one of the most striking phenomena of history. Arabia seemed rather to recollect than to acquire rather to revive a deceased literature, than to create a new. She entered on the vast field of knowledge as on a paternal inheritance, not with the hesitation of a discoverer, but with the confidence of one to whom every “dingle and alley green of that wild wood” had been once familiar, and whose recollections were revived by the sight of her accustomed walks and familiar trees. A century had hardly elapsed from the barbarous era of the Hegira, when the court of Haroun Al Raschid was the centre of science and aris. A hundred and twenty years after the pretended burning of the Alexandrian library, public libraries were opened even in the obscurest cities of the Arabian empire. Bagdad, Balsora, Balkh, Cufa, Ispahan, and Samarcand, vied with each other in the number of their colleges and learned men. Kings sat at the feet of sages to learn wisdom; and the whole empire seemed but one vast academy, where all were either teachers or disciples, communicating or receiving knowledge. Every branch of science, exact or speculative, the Arabs had studied with success; and as the growth of their literature had been as rapid as their conquests, it seemed as if its extent would be vast and varied as the territories they had acquired. 1. It is in the poetry of the Arabians that the effects of this sudden rise of their literature are most visible. In the severer sciences, it matters little, perhaps, by what stages a nation arrives at perfection. Knowledge is still the same, whether it be acquired by laborious study, or with the rapidity of apparent intuition; but the growth of poetry, it would seem, must be gradual, if the frame is to be strong and healthy. There is an infancy in nations, as well as individuals, during which the reflecting faculties repose, while the materials of reflection are accumulated; and in both, premature development generally announces premature decay. During this period, men act, and record actions, but they do not speculate, or commemorate feelings; and hence narrative poetry naturally precedes that of contemplation. But the sudden diffusion of science seems to have at once impelled the Arabians into the region of thought; for their poetry wears, from the first, that cast of meditation which, in other nations, has been prepared by centuries of activity, and preceded by a long series of narrative compositions. They have no national recollections embodied in ballads and chronicles-no Heldenbuch or Nibelungen.* The luxury of study, and the despotic nature of their government seem to have nipped in the bud the tales of bravery and warlike adventure which, in less cultivated countries, form the amusement of the populace; and the want of these has communicaled to their poetry a monotony of thought and expression. Like the

[merged small][ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

character of the people, it is a compound of subtlety and passion : sometimes delighting, but oftener chilling the imagination by a spirit of refinement and analysis-exalting the feelings by the boldness of its imagery, only to precipitate them again by its extravagance; - at times bursting out into a majestic sweep of passion, or filling the mind with delightful dreams of pastoral stillness and simplicity; and then again relapsing into complaints of imaginary evils and fabricated distresses, which neither come from the heart nor are addressed to it. The poetry of the Northern nations is content to touch. That of the Arabians must dazzle too. The one operates by the unity, the other by the variety, of its impressions. The one is like its own Gothic cathedrals-stately, solemn, shadowy-softening down every feeling into one deep sense of religious veneralion :- the other is like the fantastic edifices of the East, all sunshine and splendour-broken into parts, and distracting the eye with the glitter of spires and minarets and porticoes.

Such was the state of Arabia, when, in 712, the defeat of Roderick at Xeres de la Frontera introduced the Arabian conquerors into Spain, and brought into contact the polish of the East with the barbarism of Europe. The fairest provinces of the Peninsula were now added to their 'already enormous empire; and, under their mild and yet powerful government, Cordova, Granada, Seville, and Valencia, soon disputed the palm of intellectual superiority with Bagdad and Balsora. The fanaticism which had altended the rise of their empire, no longer kept alive by opposition, had declined; and the Christian subjects of the Abbasides and Ommiades at first experienced protection, not persecution, from their conquerors. Under the name of Moçarabes, they became mingled with the Moors in every thing but religion. They possessed nearly the same privileges—They distinguished themselves in the same sciences and reaped the same rewards. They were united by a community of loves, friendships, and amusements; and ihat bigotry which, at an after period, disgraced the annals of both countries, was then unheard of. It was only as their empire narrowed, that their religious animosities began. It was only when the tide began to turn in favour of Christian Spain, and the once great territory of the Caliphs had shrunk into the small province of Granada, that those feelings of bitter and unrelenting hostility on both sides were called forth, which, under the weak policy of Philip III., and the persecuting spirit of the Inquisition, at last deprived Spain of 300,000 of her subjects.

The contrast presented by the state of Christian Spain was striking. The Spaniards possessed a noble and expressive language, but no literature -a vast fund of poetical capabilities, but no poetry. Historical events had been transmitted to them, not in the stubborn unyielding form of a chronicle, but in the changing garb of tradition, to which every successive possessor had added new ornaments. With them them the military profession was every thing-with the Arabians it was nothing :-the former, like the other Gothic nations, surrounded themselves with romantic—the lalter with classical associations. The Arabs had appealed but liule to national feelings or recollections. It was for himself that the poet claimed the sympathy of his readers ; -- with his own hopes and fears-happiness or misfortune. It was a solitary appeal-a selfish inspiration, which operated only by its individual excellence or insignificance. But the Spaniards had been unconsciously surrounding history with the light of imagination- linking great names with great deeds—concentrating those universal recollections in which every one feels he has a part, and silently

[ocr errors]

building up the fabric of nalional poetry on the basis of national enthusiasm.

But it was impossible that a connection so intimate as that which had subsisted for centuries between the rival nations, should be without its effect. Arabia exercised on Spain the influence of knowledge over ignorance; but she, at the same time, felt the power which a great and commanding character must exert over minds of more cultivated but feebler texture; and while Spanish literature was refined by the intercourse with the Arabians, the influence of the chivalrous spirit and devoted patriotism of Spain, on Arabian feeling, was visible in an increased elevation of tone a stronger sense of national dignity, and a system of manners, which, as delineated in the “Cim Wars of Granada," might have vied in gallantry, refinement, and knightly courtesy, with the most splendid imaginations of Amadis and Palmerin.

In tracing the influence of Arabian on Spanish literature, a distinction must be kept in view, which, as far as we are aware, has been hitherto overlooked, but certainly existing in fact, as it is explicable on philosophical principle. That intluence was not equal. Between the narrative poetry of the Spaniards and the literature of the East, there exist scarcely any features of resemblance ;-between what in both countries may be called the poetry of sentiment, the relations are infinile. The Romances do not possess a single characteristic which we have been accustomed to consider as peculiar 1o Oriental literature. Instead of that diffuseness-that conglomeration of imagery, and that taint of exaggeration, which seems inseparable from Eastern poetry, they are characterised by a peculiar spirit of simplicity-a straight-forward earnestness, which thinks only of the end, and presses on, without turning to the right hand or the left, in search of ornament. But there is another point of distinction still more striking. There is no surer test of the influence of one nation over another, than the adoption or rejection of ils fictions. Arabia, it is true, had no narrative poetry--but she possessed a substitute, to ordinary minds as brilliant and captivating, in those splendid tales of wonder and enchantment, which have excited so powerful an influence over thefliterature of Europe; and had they been in unison with the Spanish character, it is but reasonable to suppose, that that influence, which extended to countries so remote from the seat of these fictions, should have been strongest where their operation was most direct and immediate. But the stream of fiction, like the fabled waters of Syracuse, seems to seek a congenial climate, and to rise into light when its appearance is least expected. While the early Romances of France, and the Fabliaux of the Trouvères, exbibit, at every step, the traces of Arabian imagination, with which we have become familiar in the poems of Berni and Ariosto, -those splendid palaces that rise in deserts, glittering with gold and diamonds--those magic rings, flying horses, impenetrable armour, and enchanted castles thoses genii, giants, peris, and magicians, presiding over the destinies of mankind, and alternately persecuting or protecting their votaries ;-or those bumbler tales of humour and comic adventure, which seem to have been so congenial to the imagination of Boccaccio and the Italian novelists,-the

[ocr errors]

* Such are the Fabliaux of " Le Manteau mal taillé, from the Mirror of Prince Žeyn Alaspain - Laaval, from the story of Peri Banou--Constant du Hamel, from the Bahar Damush-Du Voleur qui descendit, from the Fables of Bidpaj– Les Trois Bossus and Le Sacristain de Cluni, from the Lille Hunchback--Les Trois Aveugles, from the Adventures of the Barber's Brothers -Le Jugement sur les Barils, from the story of Ali Cogia."

Spanish poetry is of a character completely opposite. Their earliest romances, which are those relating to Charlemagne and the Peers, though founded on subjects connected with the French romances by strong analogies, have treated them in a manner totally different; and the romances of Amadis and his descendants, in which the characteristics of Arabian invention are subsequently to be found, were, in their leading features, borrowed at second-hand from that mass of romances which appeared in France under the reign of Philip (1275 to 1280), when his venal court flattered him with the title of a second Charlemagne. The causes of this striking difference between the traces of Arabian influence in the narrative and in the lyrical poems, is, after all, not difficult to be accounted for. Narrative poetry is little susceptible of variation. In the recital of

events, there are always some fixed points_some things, which, in all ages, will be related nearly in the same way-some features which do not yield to the change of habits or the polish of thought. But the poetry of sentiment follows the course of manners. Rough and impassioned in their infancy, it advances with them to cultivation, and sinks with them into artifice and over-refinement. Besides, the mass of tradition which was embodied in the Spanish romances, had existed long before Arabian literature arose to embellish or disguise. Its tales were familiar to the national mind, in their minutest details. They were consecrated and unalterable. But, till then, the Spaniards had not reflected, nor studied their feelings. Example had established no prescriptive rules-no canons of lyrical expression. With the knowledge of the Arabians, they had imbibed much of their habits and manners; and, feeling as they did, they expressed their feelings with the same alternations of fiery emotion and frigid analysis, with the same superfluity of expression, and the same extravagance of imagery.

Indeed, the supposition that the Romances, in their present shape, have been in any great degree indebted for their excellences to the influence of Arabian taste, could have arisen only from looking at one side of the question, and overlooking the influence, which we have already said, Spain, in its turn, exerted over Arabia. No doubt, at a later period, the Ballads of Granada celebrated the same events as the Spanish romances, and in strains of a similar nature; but, instead of exerting any influence over the romantic poetry of Spain, these ballads themselves owed their existence to that spirit of chivalry which had preceded the establishment of the Arabian empire, as it was destined to survive its decline.

The narrative poetry of Spain, then, divides itself from the lyrical and didactic, by national as well as generic distinctions. And we have thus a double reason for adopting the arrangement, which it is our intention to follow out in this article ; commencing with the narrative romances, and briefly resuming the connection of Spanish with Arabian poelry, when we come to consider the interminable canciones and redondillas of Spain,

Never perhaps has there existed in any country a richer fund of those materials, from which the Ballad Poetry of a nation takes its rise, than in Spain. Its history is fruitful of evil and of good; abounding with great events and striking catastrophes-with all that is calculated powerfully to elevate, to impress, and to agitate. The memory of the disastrous battle which had terminated the dynasty of the Visigoths in Spain--the rash revenge of Julian, and the mysterious fate of Rodrigo, were opposed to the splendid recollections of the field of Roncesvalles, the heroic resistance of Pelayo in Asturia, and the exploils of Bernardo del Carpio. Then came

[ocr errors]

the glorious deeds of the Cid-his youthful quarrel-his love for Ximena -his devotion to his sovereign, repaid, like that of Bernardo, with constant ingratitude-his residence among the Moors, and his triumphant return. Then, again, the scene darkened—the fraternal quarrels of Peter the Cruel and Henry of Transtamara, the Spanish Polynices and Eteocles—the murder of the Master of St. Jago—the melancholy fate of the innocent Blanche -the grief of Maria de Padilla, even more unfortunate than guilly, shook the mind with alternate feelings of horror and compassion. Last came the conquest of Granada, with all that mass of legends which it opened to the conquerors—ils tournaments and fètes of canes—its bull-feasts and Zambras --the glories of the Alhambra and Albaycin-the magic beauties of the Generalife-the quarrels of the rival houses of the Zegris and Abencerrages, " those names so sonorous and so melodious,"—the accusation of the queen -the tragedy of the Court of Lions—the murder of Morayma—and the romantic interest of the combat, where the honour of the queen was vindieated against the treacherous Zegris by Spanish valour. The number

ballads founded on hese and similar events, far exceeds that of any other nation; but this superiority in point of number is perhaps rather apparent than real. These poems which, in other countries, have been left to the imperfect recollections of the peasantry, or collected only when the best part of them had disappeared, had the good fortune to be published in Spain so early as the year 1510, in the Collection of Ferdinand de Castillo. His collection was followed by the Cancionero de Romances, of Antwerp, in 1555, that of Sepulveda in 1566, and the Romancero Historiado of Lucas Rodriguez in 1579. But, even if the number of Spanish romances does really exceed those which have been produced in other countries, the difference is sufficiently accounted for—partly by the nalure of the elimate, which allowed more time for recreation—and partly by the extreme ease of the system of Spanish versification, and the facilities afforded by the language.

But the difficulty lies not in accounting for the number, but the peculiarities, of the Spanish ballads. When we compare the early literature of Spain with those of other countries,-with our own Border ballads for instance, -we are at once struck by the visible superiority of the former in point of refinement and nobleness of tone. In general, we peruse the early monuments of literature with curiosity, rather than pleasure. They describe a set of manners revolting in themselves, but interesting, because they differ so completely from our own, in language which excites our interest, precisely because it seems to have created no surprise in the narrator; because he considers as a matter of course what appears to us so unaccountable ; and our pleasure is rather the result of comparison, than the effect of any thing which the works intrinsically contain. But the manners described in the Spanish ballads do not require the apology of the rudeness of the age, or derive their interest only from their opposition to our own. They are in themselves noble, delicate, and refined breathing of courts and camps, and of bravery softened and humanised by chivalry.

The causes of this superiority, the existence of which is undoubted, must be looked for, in the peculiar circumstances under which Spain was placed. Its early constitution under the descendants of Pelayo, was pe

[ocr errors]

* Quintana.

« AnteriorContinuar »