Vega, Lopez De La

, or Lope-Felix de Vega Carpio, a celebrated Spanish poet, was born at Madrid, Nov. 25, 1562. He informs us that his father was a poet, but what he was besides, or the time of his death, is not known. It appears that he was an orphan when at school, about thirteen or fourteen years old, and was then impelled by so restless a desire of seeing the world, that he resolved | to escape; and having concerted his project with a schoolfellow, they actually put it in execution, but were soon brought back to Madrid. Before this time, according to his own account, he had not only written verses, but composed dramas in four acts, which, as he tells us, was then the custom. Upon his return to Madrid, however, he abandoned this mode of composition, and ingratiated himself with the bishop of Avila by several pastorals, and a comedy in three acts, called “La Pastoral de Jacinto,” which is said to have formed an epoch in the annals of the theatre, and a prelude to the reform which Lope was destined to introduce.

He shortly after studied philosophy at Alcala, and ingratiated himself with the duke of Alva, at whose instance he wrote his “Arcadia,” a mixture of prose and verse, romance and poetry, pastoral and heroic, the design of which was avowedly taken from Sannazarius, and which contains nearly as many deformities as beauties. Soon, after this he left the duke of Alva’s service, and married, but continued to cultivate his favourite studies, until, being involved in a duel, he wounded his antagonist so dangerously as to be obliged to leave Madrid, and his newly established family. He fixed upon Valencia as the place of his retreat, but returned to Madrid in a few years, when all apprehensions of evil consequences from his duel were allayed. He was probably soothing his imagination with prospects of domestic happiness, which his late absence had suspended, when he had the misfortune to lose his wife. The residence of Madrid, which he had so lately regarded as the summit of his wishes, now became insupportable; and scenes which had long been associated in his mind with ideas of present comfort and future reputation, served only to remind him of their loss. To fly from such painful recollections he hastily embarked on board the memorable Armada, which was then fitting out to invade England. The fate of this expedition is well known; and Lope, in addition to his share in the difficulties and dangers of the voyage, saw his brother, to whose society he had run for refuge in his late calamity, expire in his arms. During the voyage, however, his muse was not idle, for he composed the “Hermosura de Angelica,” a poem, which professes to take up the story of that princess where Ariosto had dropped it. When he published this poem in 1602, he added another, the “Dragontea,” an epic on | the death of sir Francis Drake, who is abused by every coarse epithet, as indeed was his royal mistress Elizabeth, whose tyranny, cruelty, and above all, her heresy, are th_e perpetual objects of Lope’s poetical invective.

In 1590 he returned a second time to Madrid, and soon after married again. In 1598, on the canonization of St. Isidore, a native of Madrid, he entered the lists with several authors, and overpowered them all with the number if not with the merit of his performances. Prizes had been assigned for every style of poetry, but above one could not be obtained by the same person. Lope succeeded in the hymns; but his fertile muse, not content with producing a poem of ten cantos in short verse, as well as innumerable sonnets and romances, and two comedies on the subject, celebrated by an act of supererogation both the saint and the poetical competition of the day, in a volume of sprightly poems under the feigned name of Tom6 de Burguiilos. This success raised him, no doubt, in the estimation of the public, to whom he was already known by the number and excellence of his- dramatic writings and this was probably the most fortunate period of his life, and that in which he derived most satisfaction from his pursuits. About this time, however, we must fix the short date of his domestic comforts. Of three persons who formed his family, the son died at eight years, and was soon followed by his mother; the daughter alone survived our poet. He now resolved to seek consolation in the exercises of devotion; and, having been secretary to the Inquisition, he shortly after became a priest, and in 1609 an honorary member of the brotherhood of St. Francis.

Whatever the devotion of Lope, it did not break in upon his habits of composition, and as he had about this time acquired sufficient reputation to attract the envy of his fellow poets, he spared no exertions to maintain his post, and repel the criticisms of his enemies. Among these have been mentioned the formidable names of Gongora and Cervantes. Gongora had introduced an affected, bombast, and obscure style, which Lope first attacked irr hints in his plays, aad afterwards exposed its absurdities. in a letter prefixed to an eclogue on the death of Donna Isabel de Urbino, in 1621, and this he performed with great candour. As to Lope’s dispute with Cervantes, it is less distinctly narrated, and seems in some measure problematical. Whatever it was, posterity has long decided | between them. “Cervantes,” says lord Holland,. “who was actually starving in the same street where Lope was living in splendour and prosperity, has been for near two centuries the delight and admiration of every nation in Europe; and Lope, notwithstanding the late edition of his works in 22 vols. is to a great degree neglected in his owft.

Before the death of Cervantes, the admiration, of Lope was become a species of worship in Spain, and it was hardly prudent in any author to withhold incense from his shrine, much less to interrupt the devotion of his adherents. Nor was he himself entirely exempt from the irritability which frequently attends poets: he often speaks with peevishness of his detractors, and answers their criticisms, sometimes in a querulous, and sometimes in an insolent tone. He even complains of neglect, obscurity, and poverty, although he was laden with honours and pensions, courted by the great, and followed by the crowd.

He seldom passed a year without giving some poem to the press; and scarcely a month, or even a week, without producing some play upon the stage. His “Pastores de Belen,” a work in prose and verse on the Nativity, bad confirmed his superiority in pastoral poems; and rhymes, hymns, and poems without number on sacred subjects, had evinced his zeal in the profession he embraced. Philip IV. the great patron of the Spanish theatre, to which he afterwards is said to have contributed compositions of his own, at the aera of his accession, found Lope in full possession of the stage, and in the exercise of unlimited authority over the authors, comedians, and audience. New honours and benefices were immediately heaped on our poet, and in all probability he wrote occasionally plays for the royal palace. He published about the same time “Los Triumpbos de la F6” “Los Fortunas de Diana;” three novels in prose (unsuccessful imitations of Cervantes); “Circe,” an heroic poem, dedicated to the count duke of Olivarez and “Philomena,” a singular, but tiresome, allegory, in the second book of which he vindicates himself in the person of the nightingale from the accusation of his critics, who are there represented by the thrush.

Such was his reputation that he began to distrust the sincerity of the public, and seems to have suspected that there was more fashion than real opinion in the extravagance of their applause. This engaged him in a dangerous experiment, the publication of a poem without his name. | But whether the number of his productions had gradually formed the public taste to his own standard of excellence, or that his fertile and irregular genius was singularly adapted to the times, the result of this trial confirmed the former judgment of the public; and his “Soliloquies to God,” though printed under a feigned name, attracted as much notice, and secured as many admirers, as any of his former productions. Emholdened probably by this success, he dedicated his “Corona Tragica,” a poem on the queen of Scots, to pope Urban VIII, who had himself composed an epigram on the subject. Upon this occasion he received from that pontiff a letter written 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 people crowded round him whereever he appeared; the learned and the studious thronged to Madrid from every part of Spain to see this phoenix of their country, this “monster of literature;” and even Italians, no extravagant admirers in general of poetry that is not their own, made 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 signify any thing perfect in its kind; and a Lope diamond, a Lope day, or a Lope woman, became fashionable and familiar modes of expressing their good qualities.

Lope’s poetry was as advantageous to his fortune as to his fame; the king enriched him with pensions and chaplaincies: the pope honoured him with dignities and preferments; and every nobleman at court aspired to the character of his Maecenas, by conferring upon him frequent and valuable presents. His annual income was not less rhan 1500 ducats, exclusive of the price of his plays, which Cervantes insinuates that he was never inclined to forego, and Montalvan, one of his biographers, estimates at 80,000. He received in presents from individuals as much as 10,500 more. His application of these sums partook of the spirit of the nation from which he drew them. Improvident and indiscriminate charity ran away with these gains, immense as they were, and rendered his life unprofitable to his friends, and uncomfortable to himself. | He continued to publish plays and poems, and to receive every remuneration that adulation and generosity could bestow, till 1635, when religious thoughts had rendered him so hypochondriac, that he could hardly be considered as in full possession of his understanding. 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 superstitious flagellation, to which he had accustomed himself, with more than usual severity. This discipline is supposed to have hastened his death. He became ill on that night, and having passed the necessary ceremonies with excessive devotion, he expired on Monday, Aug. 26, 1635, in the seventy-third year of his age.

The sensation produced by his death was, if possible, more astonishing than the reverence in which he was held while living. The splendour of his funeral, which was conducted at the charge of the most munificent of his patrons, the duke of Sesa, the number and language of the sermons on that occasion, the competition of poets of all countries in celebrating his genius and lamenting his loss, are unparalleled in the annals of poetry, and perhaps scarcel) equalled in those of royalty itself. The ceremonies attending his interment continued for nine days. His biographers, however, have been less careful to convey a just idea of this extraordinary man to posterity, and there is little in them that can throw any light upon his character as a man, or his history as an author. His intimate friend Montalvan praises him in general as a person of a mild and amiable disposition, of very temperate habits, of great erudition, singular charity, and extreme good breeding. His temper, he adds, was never ruffled but with those who took snuff before company; with the grey who dyed their locks; with men who, born of women, spoke ill of the sex; with priests who believed in gypsies; and with persons who, without intentions of marriage, asked others their age. These antipathies, which are rather quaint sallies of wit, than traits of character, are the only peculiarities which his intimate friend has t’ >ught proper to communicate. We have already noticed his unreasonable complaints of illusage, neglect, and even poverty, which appear to have constituted the greatest blemish in his character. | As an author, he is most known, as indeed he is most wonderful, for the prodigious number of his writings. Twenty-one million three hundred thousand of his lines are said to he actually printed; and no less than eighteen hundred plays of his composition to have been acted on the stage. Lord Holland has calculated that according to these 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 occupations 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 improhable, but absolutely* and, one may almost say, physically impossible. Yet although there does not now exist the fourth part of the works which he and his admirers mention, enough remains to render him one of the most voluminous authors that ever put pen to paper. Such was his facility, that he informs us himself, that more than an hundred times he composed a play and produced it on the stage in twentyfour hours. To this evidence we may add tins of Montalvan, that he wrote a comedy in two days, which it would not be very easy for the most expeditious amanuensis to copy out in the time. At Toledo he wrote fifteen acts in fifteen days, which, Montalvan adds, make five comedies. He also asserts that Lope wrote 1800 plays and 400 autos sacramentales, a species of dramatic composition” resembling' our old mysteries. That in all this there must be some exaggeration, cannot be doubted.

But whatever may have been the original number of Lope’s productions, enough yet remain to render an examination of them all nearly impossible*. The merit, independent of those intended for representation, consists chiefly in smoothness of versification and purity of language, and in facility rather than strength of imagination. His invention is chiefly shown in his dramas, which, whatever their individual merit, formed upon the whole the school which has produced the greatest dramatic writers of the continent. On this subject we may refer to lord Hol­* Lope’s miscellaneous prose and printed at Madrid, Valladolid, Jtc.

verse are contained in 22 vols. 4to. 1609 1647, bat it is very difficult to

printed at Madrid, 1776 79; and procure this collection complete.

his dramatic works, in 25 vols. 4to, | land’s elegant and interesting narrative, who observes in the conclusion that “it seems but an act of justice to pay some honour to the memory of men whose labours have promoted literature, and enabled others to eclipse their reputation. Such was Lope de Vega; once the pride and glory of Spaniards, who in their literary, as in their political achievements, have, by a singular fatality, discovered regions, and opened mines, to benefit their neighbours and their rivals, and to enrich every nation of Europe, but their own.1

1

Some Account of the Life and Writings of Lope Felix de Vega Carpio, by the right hon. Henry Richard lord Holland, 1806, 8vo.