Modern Poets and Poetry of Spain/Epistle to Don Domingo de Iriarte




He who begins an instrument to play,
With some preludings, will examine well
How run the fingers, how the notes will swell,
And bow prepares, or breath for his essay;
Or if to write the careful penman's aim,
He cuts and proves his pen, if broad or fine;
And the bold youths, to combat who incline,
Strike at the air, as trial of the game:

The dancer points his steps with practised pace;
The orator harangues with studied grace;
The gamester packs his cards the livelong day;
I thus a Sonnet, though worth nothing, trace,
Solely to exercise myself this way,
If prove the Muse propitious to my lay.
It seems to me, dear brother, that Apollo
A course divine now does not always follow,
Nor please to dictate verses of a tone,
Worthy a sponsor such as he to own;
But rather would be human, and prefer
To prose in rhymes of warmthless character;
Without the enthusiasm sublime of old,
And down the wings of Pegasus would fold,
Not to be borne in flight, but gently stroll'd.

You who forgetful of this court now seek
Those of the east and north to contemplate,
Forgive me, if in envy I may speak,
That to indulge it has allow'd you fate
The tasteful curiosity! to view
With joy the land, so famed and fortunate,
Which erst a Tully and a Maro knew,
To which Æmilius, Marius service paid,
Which Regulus and the Scipios obey'd.
Long would it be and idle to recall
The triumphs, with their blazonries unfurl'd,
Matchless of her, that once of Europe all
Was greater part, metropolis of the world.
I only ask of you, as you may read,
How in Avernus, destined to succeed,
Anchises show'd Æneas, in long line,
The illustrious shades of those, who were to shine
One day the glory of the Italian shore,
Now you, more favour'd than the Trojan chief,
Not in vain prophecy, but tried belief,
From what you see, by aid of history's lore,
To admire the lofty state which Rome possess'd,
The which her ruins and remains attest.

From our Hispanian clime I cannot scan
With you the column of the Antonine,
The fane or obelisk of the Vatican,
Or the Capitol, and Mount Palatine;
I cannot see the churches, or the walls,
The bridges, arches, mausoleums, gates,
The aqueducts, palaces, and waterfalls,
The baths, the plazas, porticos, and halls,
The Coliseum's, or the Circus' fates;
But still the immortal writings 'tis for me,
Of Livy, Tacitus, Cicero, to see;
I see Lucretius, Pliny, Juvenal,
Augustus, Maro and Maecenas all;
With their names is the soul exalted high,
Heroic worth and honour to descry;
And so much more that model imitates
A nation now, so much more to be gain'd,
Is seen it but to approach the lofty heights
Of splendour, wealth, fame, power, that Rome attain'd.

From the benignant lands that richly gleam
Beneath the Tiber's fertilizing stream,
You next will pass, where borne as he arose,
Through colder realms the mighty Danube flows.
Girded in pleasant borders 'tis for you
The Austrian Vienna there to view;
To admire the monarch, warlike, good and wise,
With the magnanimous Prussian king who vies
An army brave and numerous to sway;
Chosen and hardy, forward to obey,
Whom as companions honour'd he rewards,
And not as slaves abased a lord regards.
There agriculture flourish you will see;
Public instruction is promoted free;
The arts extended rapidly and wide;
And these among, in culture and esteem,
That with which Orpheus tamed the furious pride
Of forest beasts, and cross'd the Lethe's stream:
There all the tales of wonderful effect,
Of music's art divine, with which are deck'd
The ancient Greek and Latin histories,
No longer will seem fables in your eyes,
When near you may applaud the loftiness,
The harmony, and the consonance sublime,
All that in varied symphonies to express
Has power the greatest master of our time;
Haydn the great, and merited his fame,
Whom to embrace I beg you in my name.

But now the confines of the German land[2]
I see you leaving, for the distant strand
Of Britain's isle your rapid course to take,
And tour political around to make.
There in the populous court, whose walls' long side
Bathes the deep Thames in current vast and wide,
A nation's image will before your eyes
In all things most extraordinary rise.
Not rich of old, but happy now we see
By totally unshackled industry.
A nation liberal, but ambitious too;
Phlegmatic, and yet active in its course;
Ingenuous, but its interests to pursue
Intent; humane, but haughty; and perforce
Whate'er it be, the cause it undertakes,
Just or unjust, defends without remorse,
And of all fear and danger scorn it makes.
There with inevitably great surprise,
What in no other country we may see,
You will behold to exert their energies
Men act and speak with perfect liberty.
The rapid fortune too you will admire
Which eloquence and valour there acquire;
Nor power to rob has wealth or noble birth
The premiums due to learning and to worth.
You will observe the hive-like multitude
Of diligent and able islanders,
Masters of commerce they have well pursued,
Which ne'er to want or slothfulness defers;
All in inventions useful occupied,
In manufactures, roads, schools, arsenals,
Experiments in books and hospitals,
And studies of the liberal arts to guide.
There you will know in fine what may attain
An education wise; the skilful mode
Of patriotic teaching, so to train
Private ambition, that it seek the road
Of public benefit alone to gain:
The recompense and acceptation just,
On which founds learning all its hope and trust;
And a wise government, whose constant aim
Is general good, and an eternal fame.

Midst others my reflections I would fain,
In some description worthy of the theme,
(If it were not beyond my powers) explain,
The varied scenes, enchantment all that seem,
Which the Parisian court on your return
Prepares, and offers you surprised to learn.
Polish'd emporium of Europe's courts,
The which with noble spectacles invites,
With public recreations and resorts,
That give to life its solace and delights;
Brilliant assemblages! and these among,
The chief and most acceptable to gain,
Of all to this new Athens that belong,
To enjoy the fellowship of learned men;
With useful science, or with taste alone,
Who enlighten foreign nations, and their own.

But I, who from this narrow corner write,
In solitude, while shaking off the dust
From military archives, ill recite
What I, O travelling Secretary! trust
Yourself will better practically see,
Whilst I can only know in theory.
Continue then your journey on in health;
From tongue to tongue, from land to land proceed:
To be a statesman eminent your meed.
Acquire each day with joy your stores of wealth,
Of merit and instruction; I the while,
As fits my mediocrity obscure,
Will sing the praise of quiet from turmoil;
Saying, as Seneca has said of yore;—[3]
"Let him, who power or honours would attain,
On the high court's steep precipice remain.
I wish for peace, that solitude bestows,
Secluse to enjoy the blessings of repose.
To pass my life in silence be my fate,
Unnoticed by the noble, or the great:
That when my age, without vain noise or show,
Has reach'd the bounds allotted us below,
Though a plebeian only to pass by,
Perhaps I yet an aged man may die.
And this I do believe, no death of all
Than his more cruel can a man befall,
Who dying, by the world too truly known,
Is of himself most ignorant alone."

  1. From Works of Tomas Iriarte, 1805, vol. ii. p. 56. Domingo Iriarte was subsequently much engaged in the diplomatic service of Spain, and signed the treaty of peace with France of 1795, as Plenipotentiary, along with the celebrated M. Barthélemy.
  2. The following is the original of this passage:—

    Mas ya dexar te miro
    Los confines Germanos,
    Y el politico giro
    Seguir hasta los últimos Britanos.
    Desde luego la corte populosa
    Cuyas murallas baña
    La corriente anchurosa
    Del Támesis, la imagen te presenta

    De una nacion en todo bien extraña:
    Nacion en otros siglos no opulenta,
    Hoi feliz por su industria, y siempre esenta:
    Nacion tan liberal como ambiciosa;
    Flemàtica y activa;
    Ingenua, pero adusta;
    Humana, pero altiva;
    Y en la causa que abraza, iniqua ó justa
    Violenta defensora,
    Del riesgo y del temor despreciadora.
    Alli serà preciso que te asombres
    De ver (qual no habràs visto en parte alguna)
    Obrar y hablar con libertad los hombres.
    Admiraràs la rapida fortuna
    Que alli logra el valor y la eloqüencia,
    Sin que ni el oro, ni la ilustre cuna
    Roben el premio al mèrito y la ciencia.
    Adverteràs el numeroso enxambre
    De diligentes y habiles Isleños
    Que han procurado, del comercio Dueños
    No conocer la ociosidad ni el hambre;
    Ocupados en ùtiles inventos
    En fàbricas, caminos, arsenales,
    Escuelas, academias, hospitales,
    Libros, experimentos,
    Y estudios de las Artes liberales.
    Alli sabràs, en fin, à quanto alcanza
    La sabia educacion, y el acertado
    Mctodo de patriòtica enseñanza,
    La privada ambicion bien dirigida
    Al pùblico provecho del Estado;
    La justa recompensa y acogida
    En que fundan las Letras su esperanza,
    Y el desvelo de un pròvido Gobierno
    Que al bien aspira, y à un renombre eterno.

    This Epistle is addressed to his brother, as the reader may observe, in the second person singular, which, in Spanish, has a tone of more familiarity than in English, and understanding it so intended, I have altered it, in the translation, into our colloquial form of the second person plural.

    The above extract is the same in his printed works of both editions; but I have in my possession a collection of his manuscripts,among which is a copy of this Epistle, with several variations, less flattering to England. Had he lived to superintend the second edition, these variations might probably have been adopted in it. They are not, however, of any material variance, but they seem to me to show that his eulogium had not been favourably received in some quarters, and that he had therefore thought it prudent to soften it in preparing for another edition. The publisher of the edition of 1 805 does not seem to have been aware of these manuscripts, nor indeed to have taken the trouble of doing more for Iriarte's memory than merely to reprint the first edition, without even any biographical or critical notice of him or his writings, as he might well have done, Iriarte having been then deceased fourteen years.

    For another eloquent and encomiastic description of English usages and institutions, the student of Spanish literature would do well to read a work, published in London in 1834, by the Marques de Miraflores, 'Apuntes historico-criticos para escribir la Historia de la Revolucion de España.' This distinguished nobleman was born the 23rd December, 1792, at Madrid, and succeeded to the honours and vast property of his ancient house in 1809, on the death of his elder brother, during the campaign of that year. He has been much engaged in public affairs, having held various offices in the state. He has been twice Ambassador to England; the last time, Ambassador Extraordinary on the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. The Marques has written several works on political subjects, of which the one above-mentioned is particularly deserving of study.

  3. Stet quicumque volet potens
    Aula; culmine lubrico:
    Me duleis saturet quies.
    Obscuro positus loco
    Leni perfruar otio.
    Nullis notus Quiritibus
    Ætas per taciturn fluat.

    Sic cum transierint mei
    Nullo cum strepitu dies,
    Plebeius moriar senex.
    Illi mors gravis incubat
    Qui notus nimis omnibus
    Ignotus moritur sibi.

    Thyestes, Act II. The critical reader will observe, that the translation into English has been made from the Spanish rather than the Latin.