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Some Account of the Lives and Writings of Lope Felix de Vega Carpio, and Guillen de Custro. By Henry Richard Lord Holland. 2 vols. London. 1817.
O 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 his 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 worldanother 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
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 find 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 desire 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 1598, 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 places his panegyric in the mouth of the magician Dardanio, one of the personages in the Arcadia. The magician is exhibiting certain statues in his cavern, and relating prophetically whom they represent. This last,' he says, 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 Alva, 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 preclaim 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, Epaminondas in magnanimity, Themistocles in the love of his country, Periander in wedlock, Pomponius in 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 is curious,―its play upon words renders it untranslatable.
De tal Sol nacio mi llama
Y de tal Alva sali,
Y a mi Rey tam bien servi Que fue la embidia mi fume,
Sin ver jamas rostro al miedo
Hize con mi esfuerzo solo