END OF THE 18TH CENTURY: PRE-ROMANTIC AND NEOCLASSICS
 


 
    1.-  Ten years before the end of the 18th century, the enlightened poetry showed two fully developing trends: pre-romantic and neoclassic, which, although around at the same time, developed in that order.
 
    It has been argued whether the first movement was pre-romantic or completely romantic. We shall reserve this name for the following century´s literature. Authors like Jovellanos and Meléndez Valdés occasionally participated in this trend, which is defined by its lugubrious and sombre air, its sentimental or philanthropic themes, its anguish about life, its peculiar syntax: repetitions, exclamations and rhetorical questions, confused expressions and, in general, by its sensationalism.
 
    Neoclassicism emerged as a reaction to this sentimental outburst, which tried to return to the restraint and balance of the classics, which we read in poems by Meléndez Valdés. Perhaps rococo had been an earlier attempt at restoring these ideals.
    2.-  The best representative of pre-romanticism would have to be Nicasio Álvarez Cienfuegos (1764-1809) from Madrid, journalist and follower of Meléndez Valdés - liberal and openly opposed to José Bonaparte´s Spanish government. He died in exile, ill with tuberculosis.
 
    His poetry begins with the usual compositions of the rococo lyric, possibly influenced by Meléndez Valdés. Immediately after this, nostalgia appears as a theme, along with pre-romantic ideas. In the last decade of the century, he dealt with themes about withdrawal to nature, about pacifism, friendship and universal love, in poems like My Solitary Walk in Spring, which deals with the disillusion of love. His poem In Praise of a Carpenter Called Alfonso is considered, perhaps exaggerately, a precedent to Spanish socialism, and his School of the Sepulchre reflects the disappointment and the nihilism that would culminate in the full romanticism of Espronceda.

Poetry by
Nicasio Álvarez Cienfuegos
   He was criticised by his contemporaries for his use of exotic words: gallicism and strange adjectives: hondi-tronante, hojoso, resonant...

Portrait of Leandro Fernández de Moratín
by Francisco de Goya
     3.-  The most brilliant of the neoclassic poets was Leandro Fernández de Moratín (1760-1828), who was born in Madrid and died in Paris, after colaborating with José Bonaparte´s government. He was a friend of Jovellanos, and to whom he dedicated some of his best poetry.
 
   As a poet, he admired the poeticism of Luzán. He read Horace and thought of Greek-Latin mythology as a sign of classicism. His sonnets are noteworthy, among them, those with a historical theme. He developed satire in the best illustrated tradition and left behind a kind of poetic testamony in his Elegy to the Muses.
    4.-  In light of the tradition of classifying the poets of this time into pre-romantics and neoclassics, we will remember that most published poems in both trends.
 
   Gaspar María de Nava Álvarez, Count of Noroña (1760-1815) was born in Castellón and was a professional soldier and companion of José Cadalso. He wrote odes and anacreontics in the most rancid rococo style, alongside neoclassic poetry. His versions of Arabic or Persian poems preluded the romantic exoticism. Also, he practised uncommon genres, such as the epic poem or the pseudo-historical "arabizante".
 
   Would it be prejudiced to think of pre-romantic and Francisco Sánchez Barbero or neoclassic and José Marchena,or Nicasio Gallego from Salamanca, or Juan Bautista Arriaza? Would it be imprecise to identify liberals with pre-romantics?

Works by
Conde de Noroña

 
    5.-  With all this, we have been speaking of poets whose lives participated in the first years of the 19th century:

Works by Quintana
   Manuel José Quintana (1772-1857), from Madrid, a liberal anti-Napoleon, suffered the repression of Fernando VII. On this king´s death, he received his expected honours and was made governor of the future queen, Isabel II.
 
   His poetry fluctuates between the two categories pre-romanticism and neoclassicism. He dealt with patriotic themes, without forgetting other important motifs: the history of Spain, the invension of the press, the propagation of the vaccine, etc. Moreover, he studied and edited the classical Spanish poets.

Portrait of Quintana
   Other authors led critics to speak of a Second Sevillian school:

José María Blanco White
   José María Blanco-White (1775-1841) developed a spiritual poetry, which was the fruit of his exile to England, where he died. What stands out is his A Night Storm at High Sea,which has romantic tones, or the sonnet The Internal Revelation, of a theological theme.
 
   The Sevillian priest, Alberto Lista (1775-1848) was the teacher of a generation of romantic poets, which was to end with Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer. His education - and that which he imparted to his pupils - was neoclassic. Of his poems, the religious ones are the most noteworthy.
 
   As we can see, the Spanish illustration invaded the first years of the 19th century, and through this, one of the great neoclassic poets, the Catalan, Manuel de Cabanyes, who lived between 1808 and 1833.

D.Miguel Pérez Rosado.
Ph. D. in Hispanic Philology.