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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Juan Boscán (d. 1542)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
THE REIGN of Juan the Second of Spain (1406–1454), characterized as it was by a succession of conspiracies and internal commotions, represents also one of the most important epochs in the history of Spanish poetry, which up to that period had found expression almost exclusively in the crude though spirited historical and romantic ballads of anonymous origin: Iliads without a Homer, as Lope de Vega called them. The first to attempt a reform in Castilian verse was the Marquis of Villena (died 1434), who introduced the allegory and a tendency to imitate classical models; and although he himself left nothing of consequence, his influence is plainly revealed in the works of his far greater pupils and successors, the Marquis of Santillana and Juan de Mena. Strangely enough, the reigns of Ferdinand and Isabella, and of the Austrian Charles the Fifth, covering the most brilliant and momentous period in Spanish history, are yet marked by comparative stagnation in letters until after the first quarter of the sixteenth century. During the greater part of this period the increasing pomp and formality of the court rendered the poetry correspondingly artificial and insincere. It was not in fact until after many years of constant intercourse with Rome, Naples, and Florence, while the bulk of the noble youth of Spain resorted to the universities of those cities for higher education, that a widespread and profound admiration for Italian culture and refinement began to pave the way for another and more important revolution in Castilian poetry than that inaugurated by Villena.  1
  Juan Boscán Almogaver, who was the first of his nation to compose verses after the manner of Petrarch, and whose successors in the sixteenth century include some of the most brilliant and inspired lyrists of Spain, was born at Barcelona, a city which had witnessed the recent triumphs of the Provençal Troubadours. Boscán, however, from the beginning of his career, preferred to write in Castilian rather than in the Limosin dialect. Of patrician descent, and possessed of ample means, he entered the army like the majority of the young nobles of his age. After a brief but honorable service as a soldier he traveled extensively abroad, which led to his becoming deeply interested in the literature and art of Italy. Meanwhile he had produced verses in the ancient lyric style, but with only a moderate measure of success.  2
  The year 1526 found Boscán at Granada, where Andrea Navagiero, Ambassador from Venice to the Court of Charles the Fifth, was then in residence. A common love of letters drew the two young men into closest intimacy with each other. “Being with Navagiero there one day,” says Boscán in his ‘Letter to the Duquesa de Soma,’ “and discoursing with him about matters of wit and letters, and especially about the different forms they take in different languages, he asked me why I did not make an experiment in Castilian of sonnets and the other forms of verse used by good Italian authors; and not only spoke to me of it thus slightly, but urged me to do it…. And thus I began to try this kind of verse. At first I found it somewhat difficult; for it is of a very artful construction, and in many particulars different from ours. But afterwards it seemed to me—perhaps from the love we naturally bear to what is our own—that I began to succeed very well; and so I went on little by little with increasing zeal.” Little dreamed the Venetian diplomat that, owing to his friendly advice, a school was destined to arise shortly in the poetry of Spain which would by no means have ceased to exist after the lapse of nearly four centuries. From that day Boscán devoted himself to the exclusive composition of verses in the Italian measure, undeterred by the bitter opposition of the partisans of the old school. The incomparable Garcilaso de la Vega, then scarcely past his majority, warmly supported the innovation of his beloved friend, and soon far surpassed Boscán himself as a writer of sonnets and canzones.  3
  The Barcelonese poet spent the remainder of his life in comparative retirement, although he appeared occasionally at court, and at one time superintended the education of the young Duke of Alva, whose name afterwards became one of such terror in the annals of the Netherlands. Boscán’s death took place at Perpignan about 1540.  4
  An edition of Boscán’s poems, together with those of his friend Garcilaso, was published at Barcelona in 1543. The collection is divided into four books, three of which are devoted to the productions of the elder poet. The first consists of his early efforts in the old style, songs and ballads—‘Canciones y Coplas.’ The second and third books contain ninety-three sonnets and canzones; a long poem on Hero and Leander in blank verse; an elegy and two didactic epistles in terza rima, and a half-narrative, half-allegorical poem in one hundred and thirty-five octavo stanzas. The sonnets and canzones are obvious imitations of Petrarch; yet at the same time they are stamped with a spirit essentially Spanish, and occasionally evince a deep passion and melody of their own, although they may lack the subtle fascination of their exquisite models. The ‘Allegory,’ with its cleverly contrasted courts of Love and Jealousy, suggests the airy, graceful humor of Ariosto, and is perhaps the most agreeable and original of all Boscán’s works. The ‘Epistle to Mendoza’ is conceived in the manner of Horace, and amidst a fund of genial philosophic comment, contains a charming picture of the poet’s domestic happiness. He also left a number of translations from the classics.  5
  While in no sense a great poet, Boscán united simplicity, dignity, and classical taste in a remarkable degree; and, inclined as he seemed to entirely banish the ancient form of verse, he yet beyond question introduced a kind of poetry which was developed to a high degree of perfection in the Castilian tongue, and which may be studied with keen delight at this day in some of the noblest poetical monuments of Spanish literature.  6
  An edition of Boscán was published at Madrid in 1875. See also Menéndez y Pelayo, ‘Antologia de Poetas Liricos Castellanos,’ Vol. xiii. (Madrid, 1906).  7
 
 
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