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Soon after the publication of his “ Arcadia”, Lope married ; but having dangerouslywonnded a gentleman who had ridiculed his verses, and on whom he had retorted so severely, that the man of rank appealed to the sword, hoping to find the poet less expert with that weapou than with the peo,-he was forced to fly from Madrid, and did not return for several years. Not long after his restoration to domestic tranquillity, his wife died; and he took refuge from sorrow for ber loss on board the Armada, then firting out for the invasion of England. During this ill-fated expedition, he consoled himself with writing the “ Hermosura de Angelica,” a poem in twenty cantos, in continuation of Ariosto's Orlando Furioso. In his next per. forinance, he avenged his country and himself on Sir Francis Drake, who had been so presumptuous as to vanquish the Invin, cible Armada: the “ Dragontea” is an epic poems on the death of that scourge of Spain, and the reader is informed in the first page of it, that wherever the word Dragon occurs, it means the English Admiral, whom the author also dignifies with the titles of tyrant, slave, butcher, and even coward. The tyranny, cruelty, and above all the heresy of our Queen Elizabeth, are also favourite and unfailing themes for his bitterest poetical execration.
From this period, Lope's productions flowed upon the public one after another, like waves of the sea, in such multitudinous and uninterrupted succession, that Lord Holland himself finds it impossible to characterize or count them, After having been secretary to the Holy Inquisition, he took Priest's orders, and in 1609 became" a kind of honorary member of the brotherhood of St. Francis,” though it does not appear, that in this golden age of his life he was addicted to any useless austerities. The principal mortifications that he then suffered, were those to which every great poet is exposed, fron the malevolence of critics and the ingratitude of the public, though no poet was ever more outrageously panegyrized by the former, or more bountifully rewarded by the latter. To be contented, however, with superfluity of riches and reputation, is seldom the lot of man. About this time he entered into vexatious hostility with Gongora, a rival bard, the inventor of a new style of poetry, called in Castilian cultissimo, which consisted in " using language so pedantic, metaphors so strained, and constructions so involved, that few readers had the knowledge requisite to understand the words, and yet fewer the ingenuity to discover the allusion, or patience to unravel the sentences." The following quotation from a sonnet of Gongora's is a precious specimen of this quintessential absurdity: the poet, meaning to describe the art of writing on paper, says, that " the pen of the historian opens the gates of memory, and memo.
and argument : Apollo” to ackother dispute wrote,
ry stamps shadows on mounds of foam.”—The talents of Gongora, however, were so prevailing, that for a century after his death, little or nothing that could be understood, in poetry, was admired in Spain. Lope, probably conscious that his own style was sufficiently quaint and bombastic, assailed this hideous taste in composition, with all his powers of ridicule and arguinent; yet he had the courage and honesty, in his so Laurel de Apollo" to acknowledge the unquestionable merit of Gongora. He had another dispute with a more for midable adversary in the author of Don Quixote, probably arising from jealousy of the genius of Cervantes, in Lope, on the one hand, and spleen in Cervantes on the other, at beholding the prosperity of Lope, while he himself was pining in want and obscurity. Whatever was the cause, the quarrel is not worth recording, for its very existence is problematical.
Lord Holland informs us, that at this time the public ad. miration of Lope de Vega had become a species of worship. It was hardly prudent in any author to withhold incense from his shrine, much less to interrupt the devotion of his adherents. Having in his Hermosura de Angelica contended against Ariosto, in his Jerusalem Conquistada he entered the lists with Tasso; and in the opinion of his countrymen ex: celled both the Italians. On occasion of the martyrdom of Mary Queen of Scots, he dedicated his poem, intitled “ Co. rona Tragica” to Pope Urban VIII. who had himself com. posed an epigram on the subject.
Upon this occasion he received from that pontiff a letter in his own hand, and the degree of doctor of theology. Such a flattering tribute of admiration sanctioned the reverence in which his name was held in Spain, and spread his fame through every catholic country. The cardinal Barberini followed him with veneration in the streets; the king would stop to gaze at such a prodigy ; the learned and the studious thronged to Madrid from every part of Spain to see this phenix of their country, this “ monster of literature ;' and even Italians, no extravagant admirers in geperal of poetry that is not their own, niade pilgrimages from their country for the sole purpose of conversing with Lope. So associated was the idea
of excellence with his name, that it grew in common conversation to signi. : fy any thing perfect in its kind; and a Lope diamond, a Lope day, or a ' Lope woman, became fashionable and familiar nodes of expressing their
good qualities. pp. 64-66.
Meanwhile, though his fortune kept pace with his fame, “ improvident and indiscriininate charity ran away with his gains, immense as they were, and rendered his life unprofit. able to his friends, and uncomfortable to himself.” It is very remarkable, that during the greater part of his impetuous and unparalleled career, while he was pouring out his plays and romances without number or measure, he was accounted a pattern of piety; and toward the end of his life his deyotion
grew gradually more fervent and severe. We shall not, on this occasion, stay to try the spirit of this gloomy, yer licentious devotion; it would neither be seasonable nor serviceable here to expose its absurdities, or to account for its contradictions. The last paragraph of these memoirs greatly affected us; and perhaps it affected us the more, because it was the first that awakened a fellow-feeling with the hero. Never was there a story less calculated to move sympathy than that of Lope de Vega ; like the novel of Gil Blas, it is prufuse of amusement, but destitute of interest. The endowments and the fortunes of the poet are so strange and uncongenial both to our sentiments and our experience, that we scarcely regard him as a being of the same species with ourselves, till we behold him in that extremity to which all shall come, and yielding to the inevitable destiny of man, which proves him mortal, and makes him cease to be so.
.. On the 22d of August, which was Friday, he felt himself more than usually oppressed in spirits and weak with age ; but he was so much more anxious about the health of his soul than of his body, that he would not avail himself of the privilege to which his infirmities entitled him, of eating meat; and even resumed the flagellation, to which he had accustomed himself, with more than usual severity. This discipline is supposed to have hastened his death. He fell ill on that night, and having passed the neces. sary ceremonies with excessive devotion, he expired on Monday the 26th, of August 1635.'--p. 69.
The honours conferred by his countrymen on their poetical idol, after his death, were yet more extravagant than those; which were heaped upon him wbile living; it is only remarkable that they did not canonize bin, and preserve his works entire as standing miracles of his genius and sanctity. ..
Of the private character of Lope de Vega little remains on, .. record, most of those who have written of him being more concerned to praise him than to tell the truth. We only learnthat he was mild, temperate, charitable, and well-bred; that he had three antipathies,-to the old who dyed their grey hạirs, to men born of women, who spoke ill of the sex, and to priests who believed in gypsies! His favourite relaxation from the toils of literature, was gardening. That he was intoxicated wth glory and good fortune, (of which few have drunk more deeply and deliciously) will not be thought wonderful;, but that he should nevertheless have been discontented and repining, may excite astonishment in many who have not yet learned,.. (and few learn except from experience) that these things are in themselves neither the essence nor the means of happiness.
The following quotations from Lord Holland's account of the poet's works, will give our readers some idea of their re.' ported and their probable extent.
• As an author he is most known, as indeed heis most wonderful, for the prodigious number of his writings. Twenty-one million three hundred thousand of his lines are said to be actually printed ; and no less than eighteen hundred plays of his composition to have been acted on the stage. Ho nevertheless assert; in one of his last poems, that,
The printed part, though far too large, is less
Than that which yet unprinted waits the press. .. It is true that the Castilian language is copious; that the verses are often extremely short, and that the laws of metre and of rhyme are by no means severe. Yet were we to give credit to such accounts, allowing him to begin his compositions at the age of thirteen, we must believe that upon an average. he wrote more than nine hundred lines a day; a fertility of imagination, and a celerity of pen, which when we consider the occupation of his life as a soldier, a secretary, a master of a family, and a priest; his acquirements in Latin, Italian, and Portuguese; and his reputation for erudition, become not only improbable, but absolutely, and, one may almost say, physically impossible.
There does not now exist the fourth part of the works which he and his admirers mention, yet enough remains to render him one of the most volminous authors that ever put pen to paper. Such was his facility, that he informs us in his Eclogue to Claudio, that more than a hundred times he composed a play and produced it on the stage in twenty-four hours.' pp. 75–77.
The bulk of Lord Holland's publication consists in the cri. tical dissertation's already mentioned, in which, with great candour and moderation, he exposes the faults, and displays the excellences of his author's principal performances. Ön the poet's dramatic merits, his noble biographer expatiates with peculiar labour and delight. We are more disposed ta censure his Lordship's ardent devotion to this alluring and pernicious species of entertainment, than to condemn his criticisms on three or four of the eighteen hundred plays, as mere literary compositions. Those who are desirous to know more of this subjeet, will probably be gratified with Lord Hol. land's copious abstract and translations from “La Estrella de Sevilla," one of his author's most interesting dramas. It appears that even the patronage of Philip the fourth was not sufficient to deter some austere monks from condemn. ing amusements which their ascetic habits prevented them from partaking :" but it must be acknowledged a strong proof of the disinterested sincerity of these austere monks, in their opposition to the licentiousness of the stage, that neither the orthodoxy of Lope's works, nor the sanctity of his profession" could screen him from their indignant censure, coarse and terrible as it seems to have been. That there was too much cause for the invectives of these ascetic zealots is evident, from the romantic outrages and intrigues, which form the subjects of all Lope's comedies; if we may apply to then the well.. known Terentian sentiment adopted as a motto to the Stage
they at once reflected the manners of the times, and, with a contrary and less inirocent reflectioa, cast a light of gallan try and heroism on the originals, rendering secret amours amiable, and street-murders illustrious. .
This is conceded by Lord Holland himself; and Calderon, a dramatic author almost às voluminous as Lope, indirectly pleads guilty to the charge, since one of his characters, being the dupe of a disguise, the common trick of nearly every bra vo in every Spanish play) is forced to exclaim,
“ Plague on our Comedies, which shew'd the ease i
“With which the world might practise tricks like these !" The evil effects of theatrical exhibitious in that age were so notorious, that the government for a time interfered, with its authority, to restrict the genius of Lope to the composition of Sacred Dramas and dulos Sacramentales. We shall not inquire whether the absurdity or the mischief of this.in. junction were the greater; and we may have some future opportunity of considering the nature and influence of these sacrilegious rather than sacred representations. E
Of time for love to grow; . ..,
Is nursed into a fame,
But Love is not its name.
It death at sight should deal,
In short be that I feel.
For years to play the fool ;
And send one's heart to school,
Start usifull grown and tall ;
He is po love at all.' pp. 215, 216.