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WITH the exception of some scenes from Lopé and Guillen de Castro, contained in Lord Holland's Life of Lopé de Vega, the first English specimens of translation from the Spanish Theatre, we believe, appeared in this Magazine; where Lope's Sancho Ortiz de las Roelas,* and Calderon's Devotion of the Cross,† his Courtesy not Love, and his Dancing-Master,§ were analysed at length, with liberal extracts, in which the peculiarities of the Spanish dramatic versification, on which so much of the effect of the original depends, were in general imitated in English. These specimens of that noble theatre, it is our intention, from time to time, to resume: and in the mean time, to preface our translations by some general remarks on the greatest ornament of the Spanish drama, Calderon de la Barca.
We know little of the private life of Shakspeare. The incidents of his history, prior to his leaving Warwickshire, are few and doubtful. Even the incidents of his theatrical career in London, so far as they are established from any authentic sources, afford but slight glimpses of the outward surface of the poet's character; and after his return to Stratford, his life is for the biographer a mere blank. As a man, in short, Shakspeare is to us little more than a name.
This want of authentic materials for the private history of one, who, even in his own day, was the object of some interest and curiosity, and whose dramas had certainly eclipsed in popularity those of his predecessors and contemporaries, may, however, in Shakspeare's case, have been in some degree accounted for by the fact, that his habits and employments disinclined him to letter-writing, while his theatrical associates and rival authors were too much occupied with their own bustling and precarious employments, to find time for recording the memorabilia of a brother dramatist, whose vast superiority to themselves their very proximity to him prevented them from appreciating.
The extreme meagreness of our information, however, with regard to the prince of Spanish dramatists, Calderon de la Barca, is more unaccountable, when we recollect, that from about 1628 to his death in 1687, he lived at the Spanish Court, the favourite of two successive monarchs, Philip IV. and Charles II.-that he was a man of rank and of learning, enjoying all the sweets of lettered ease that his fame, eclipsing even that of Lopé, was spread over all Europe, and his pieces imitated on every stage. And yet, of his personal history we know nothing more, at the present day, than what is contained in the meagre notice prefixed by his friend
Vol. xviii. p. 680. † Vol. xviii. p. 83. Vol. xvii. p. 641. § Vol. xx. p. 539.
NO. CCXC. VOL. XLVI.
and editor, Don Juan de Vera Tassis, to the collected edition of his works, (undertaken by him in 1685,) in which the incidents are as scanty as the style is pompous and unmeaning. The substance of the whole is simply this: That he was the descendant of a noble family, and born in 1601; that he studied at Salamanca, and afterwards served during some campaigns in Italy and Flanders; that in consequence of the success of some of his earlier dramas, he was invited by Philip IV. (himself a passionate admirer of the drama, and, it is said, the author of some theatrical pieces of tolerable merit,) to the court of Madrid, where he received the appointment of court poet, and continued till 1652, (when he entered into holy orders,) to pour out tragedies and comedies for the stage, with equal facility, brilliancy, and success. From that time to his death, his compositions, though in a dramatic form, and not unfrequently on subjects of a secular character, were chiefly Autos Sacramentales, and Loas, pieces of a spiritual, moral, or religious character. The whole number of his plays contained in Vera Tassis' collection, (excluding those on religious subjects,) amounts to a hundred and eight. Twelve others, intended by Vera Tassis for the tenth volume of his works, were never printed, and are supposed to be now lost.
The number here mentioned is great; but, after all, the dramatic activity of Calderon is scarcely greater than that of Shakspeare. The thirty-six plays of Shakspeare range over a period of only seventeen years, (1597 to 1614;) the one hundred and twenty of Calderon --if Schlegel's statement be correct, that he began to write for the stage when only fourteen years old-must be distributed over a period of seventy-three years, in which case his fertility, though still great, is by no means astonishing. It would be a mistake, no doubt, to suppose that Calderon rivalled or sought to rival the almost preternatural rapidity of Lopé, to whom twenty-four hours, it is said, were sufficient for the composition of a play. On the contrary, his plots were generally carefully studied and digested, the combinations of the intrigue very artfully and elaborately prepared, the brilliant passages in his dramas highly wrought up; though long practice and extensive acquaintance with the stage,
coupled with the facilities afforded by a musical language, copious in rhymes, and by occasional repetitions of the same incidents and imagery, enabled him to produce a drama in a space of time, which, though long if compared with that usually given by Lopé to his brilliant improvisations, certainly appears wonderfully short in comparison with that which an English dramatist would have bestowed upon a play of corresponding length.
It is certainly singular, that in the case of a person so distinguished as Calderon, enjoying in his own day the favour of successive sovereigns, and the proud title of " Phoenix of Poets," no life but this meagre memorial of Vera Tassis should have appeared; and that no correspondence, or documents illustrative of his character or his poetical views, have yet been published. It is difficult to believe that such materials do not exist in Spain, if sufficient zeal and perseverance were bestowed on their acquisition: and we could scarcely point out a subject of greater interest and novelty for a critical biogra phy than that which a life of Calderon, constructed from materials of sufficient minuteness and personal interest, combined with an impartial and temperate appreciation of his works, would afford.
The task would undoubtedly be a difficult one. The sudden and total neglect into which not only the works of Calderon, but that of all the Spanish dramatists of the early school, sank upon the introduction of the French taste into Spain, under the Bourbons, and from which, in their own country, they have never emerged, has left the theatre of Calderon with a most corrupted and mutilated text-so corrupt, indeed, as to be occasionally unintelligible, notwithstanding the attempts at emendation by Vera Tassis and Apontes. Frequently nothing exists, except the internal evidence of style, or allusions to passing events, or the date of representation, to mark the date of the composition of any particular play. All of them are left without the slightest commentary to explain the many difficulties arising sometimes from a real obscurity in the ideas themselves, sometimes from a form of expression now antiquated, sometimes from plays on words which escape the notice of the foreign reader_ and still more frequently from the per
petual allusions to incidents of the day, or to passages in contemporary authors or plays, which are made the subject of satire or praise; to prevailing fashions, absurdities, proverbial expressions, or popular ballads of the time-many of which would now baffle the research of the best Spanish scholar and antiquarian. Recollecting by what slow degrees, and by means of what a combination of labours, our own critical commentaries on Shakspeare, imperfect as they still are, have grown into shape, we could not, indeed, hope that any single individual, whatever might be his learning or his enthusiasm for his task, could hope to dis pel the obscurity which hangs over many parts of Calderon-to reform the many errors of the text-or to supply the defective lines which occur in many of the plays, from any authentic readings. But much, we are persuaded, might be done by any one critically acquainted with the original-approaching the task with a due understanding of the peculiar views and feelings of the poet, and confining himself to a few of the best specimens of Calderon's tragic and comic powers-to amend their present mutilated condition, and, by a judicious commentary, to render intelligible, and even pointed and appropriate, much which at present appears puerile, impertinent, or absolutely unmeaning. Even among the Germans, where masterly translations of select plays of Calderon, by Schlegel, Gries, and Malsburg, (not to mention the inferior names of Bärmann and others,) have appeared, there is an extreme want of any such commentary to explain the allusions to passing events, or the double meaning through which the plays on words derive their point. Sometimes,
indeed, this may be, and has been, effected with much skill by Gries, by the adoption of some equivalent in the German language sufficient to give an idea of the Spanish dramatist's meaning, without a formal explanation; but not unfrequently this has been found, even by Gries, with all his metrical fa. cility, his perfect knowledge of the original, and unwearied pains, to be impossible; and although the words are literally translated, their spirit and meaning does not appear in the German. A short accompanying commentary, such as that of which some brief specimens are given by Schmidt, (Wiener Jahrbücher, vols. xvii. xviii. and xix. Anzeige Blatt,*) would be invaluable, in explaining the leading allusions to those historical events of the day of which Calderon's dramas are full,t-as well as to the popular modes and passing subjects of interest--to the dramas of Moreto, Mira d'Amescua, Montalvan, Molina, and De Hoz, or the novels of Cervantes from Don Quixote‡ to the Jealous Estremaduran, to which Calderon constantly refers either with candid praise, or good-humoured raillery:-pointing out the meaning of the plays on words which are perpetually occurring; a few of them excellent, but the greater part forced and trivial, and appearing to us doubly so, from the doubtful glimmering of meaning which we are able to discern in them. As an instance how inadequately a mere translation, however literal, must be to convey any idea of the allusions intended by Calderon, and on which doubtless the effect of his verses upon his audience mainly depended, take a few verses from the opening scene of the Dama Duende, (the Goblin Lady.) The Gracioso Cosme, in
*Kritische uebersicht und anordnung der Dramen des Calderon de la Barca. Mit bemerkungen ueber Quellen und Nachahmungen und Erlauterungen wichtiger Emzelnheiten.
See for example the allusion to the baptism of the Prince of Asturias, and to the war of Savoy under Feria, La Dama Duende, Scene 1;-to the reception of the Infanta Maria in Vienna, before her nuptials with the King of Hungary, afterwards Ferdinand III., Mejor esta que Estava, Scene 1, Act I.;-to the festivities in honour of the Prince of Asturias, La Vanda y la Flor, Scene, 1. In fact, there is scarcely a drama of Calderon in which such allusions do not abound.
See allusions to verses in Moreto's Lindo Don Diego, in the Astrologo Fingido, the origin of Dryden's Mock Astrologer;-to Tirso de Molina's Combidado de Piedra, the original of Moliére's Festin de Pierre, and Shadwell's Don Juan, in the Mananas de Abril y Mayo; to Lopé's Melindres de Belise, in No ay burlas con el amor ;-to the Don Quixote, Dama Duende, Act I.;-El Sitio de Breda, Manos Blancas no ofenden ;—to the Curious Impertinent, Cusa con dos puertas Mala es Guardar ;— to the Jealous Estremaduran, in El escondido y la Tapada, and so on,
answer to his master's observation, that they had come an hour too late to witness the festivities on the occa
Come las cosas se aciertan,
Si hizo fuerza on o hizo fuerza,
These instances quoted by the Gracioso seem to us far-fetched and pointless enough; but to the Spanish spectators of the year 1629, when the Dama Duende was first played, they had something of the same interest which the parodies in the Rehearsal had for those who were familiar with the originals in the heroic plays of Dryden. The allusion to Pyramus and Thisbe is pointed against the tragedy of that name by Pedro Rosete Niño; and the remark as to the mulberry juice probably embodies some of the satirical commentaries of the day upon that production. The Tarquin and Lucretia of Francesco de Roxas, a celebrated cultist in style, and many of whose dramas were played under Calderon's name, is next referred to; while the compliment paid to Mira de Mescua has reference to his play of Ero, than a favourite on the Spanish stage.
While an explanation of the difficulties and obscurities of the text would thus be indispensable in any English selection of the dramas of Calderon, a candid and impartial criticism, both of their general scope and of the details of their execution, freed alike from
sion of the baptism of the Prince of Asturias, observes,
Ah! how many things in life are
Had he come but one hour later, Tarquin would have found Lucretia Safe retired within her chamber, And the tribe of learned authors Need not have so stoutly wrangled, Whether 'twere a rape or no,
Had she had an hour's reflection,
narrow and national prejudices on the one hand, and from indiscriminate admiration and extravagant eulogy on the other, would be a most valuable addition for the English reader. It was unfortunate for the due appreciation of Calderon's dramatic powers, that when attention was again called to the Spanish stage by the essays and translations of Augustus William Schlegel, the subject was taken up rather in a spirit of blind and superstitious adoration, than of rational and intelligent admiration, of a genius unquestionably of a high order, but as undeniably deformed by grievous errors of taste. Calderon was at once exalted into an idol, an object of reverence, in whom all that in other men was regarded as faulty was suddenly converted into beauty. Frederick Schlegel, with all the zeal of a "new convertite," did not hesitate to claim for the Catholic poet not only an equality of rank, but a superiority over Shakspeare, on the ground that the latter has the fault of too often placing before our eyes, in all its mystery and perplexity, the riddle of life, like a sceptical poet, without giving us any hint of the solution; while
* Wiener Jahrbücher, vol. xliii. p. 112; and vol. xvii. Anzeige Blatt, p. 4.
in Calderon, "the enigma of life is not barely expressed, but solved;" that he uniformly "makes spiritual purification the result of external sorrows; that in him " every thing is conceived in this spirit of Christian love and purification-every thing seen in its light, and clothed in the splendour of its heavenly colouring."* How far this may be applicable generally to the religious plays of Calderon we shall not pretend to judge, for our acquaintance with them is extremely limited; although, were we to draw any conclusions from the Devotion of the Cross or the Purgatory of St Patrick, pieces which have been rightly characterised as the very su blime of Catholic antinomianism, we should hold his solution of the riddle of life, and his scheme of spiritual purification, a most extraordinary one indeed.
But how perfectly erroneous and delusive is this observation of Schlegel, when applied to that large, and by far the most interesting class of Calderon's plays, the Comedias de Capa y Espada - gay pieces of intrigue, in which the only morality is that which the Spanish code of gallantry and honour had for the time consecrated, and in which, after a series of perplexities, disguises, duels, and white lies told without remorse, to deceive fathers or brothers, the whole winds up with a marriage! If the spirit of Christian love and spiritual purification can be traced in the temptation, fall, and restoration to virtue of Cyprian in the Magico Prodigioso, or in the heroic devotion of the martyr Ferdinand in the Constant Prince, what traces of their existence are to be found in such gay imbroglios as the Peor esta que estava, (It is worse than it was,) or its pendant, Mejor esta que estava? (It is better than it was ;) in the bombastic nursery extravagances of the Puente de Mantible, (Bridge of Mantible,) which Schlegel has unaccountably honoured with a translation; or in those dark tragedies of jealous vengeance which recur so frequently in Calderon-such as El Medico de su Honra, (The Physician of his Honour ;) A Secreto Agravio Secreta Venganza, (Secret Vengeance for Secret Injury ;) or El
Pintor de su Deshonra, (The Painter of his own Dishonour ;)—the last, indeed, conspicuous for gloomy power but all of them tending to justify, and even to consecrate the crime of secret and barbarous murder, when honour appears to have been wounded, or even, as in the Medico de su Honra, where the marriage ties have not been broken in fact, but only in imagination. In short, Frederick Schlegel has absurdly applied, as a general characteristic of Calderon, what is only true of a very limited and peculiar portion of his works. Many of his plays have either no moral at all, or a very bad one: and, in point of a pure, elevated, and humanizing spirit, generally informing his works, no impartial reader, in the least degree acquainted with the writings of both dramatists, could ever hesitate to give the preference to Shakspeare.
We feel it just as difficult to admit the high merits which have frequently been claimed for Augustus William Schlegel's estimate of Calderon, in his " Dramatic Course." It fills the ear, indeed, with expressions which have an air of much profundity, and philosophical generalization; but, as a characteristic of Calderon, nothing can be more vague and unsatisfactory. It is indeed surprising how a writer, whose thorough acquaintance with Calderon had been evinced by his "Spanisches Theater," and whose enthusiasm for his subject was unbounded, could have submitted to the public a criticism from which so little light as to Calderon's peculiarities, the points of distinction between him and Lopé, or the merits or demerits of his principles of composition, can be gathered. We are glad to find our own view of the vague and unsatisfactory nature of this celebrated effusion confirmed by the authority of the accomplished Spanish scholar and German critic, Solger. In his review of Schlegel's work, he observes-" At last follows the delineation of Calderon; but it deals so entirely with externals, that we rise from its perusal with entire disappointment. How instructive might the author have proved, who appears to have studied the poet with peculiar preference, had he favoured us with some intelligent insight into
*Lectures on the History of Literature. Lecture 12.