1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Echegaray y Eizaguirre, José
ECHEGARAY Y EIZAGUIRRE, JOSÉ (1833– ), Spanish mathematician, statesman and dramatist, was born at Madrid in March 1833, and was educated at the grammar school of Murcia, whence he proceeded to the Escuela de Caminos at the capital. His exemplary diligence and unusual mathematical capacity were soon noticed. In 1853 he passed out at the head of the list of engineers, and, after a brief practical experience at Almería and Granada, was appointed professor of pure and applied mathematics in the school where he had lately been a pupil. His Problemas de geometría analítica (1865) and Teorías modernas de la física unidad de las fuerzas materiales (1867) are said to be esteemed by competent judges. He became a member of the Society of Political Economy, helped to found La Revista, and took a prominent part in propagating Free Trade doctrines in the press and on the platform. He was clearly marked out for office, and when the popular movement of 1868 overthrew the monarchy, he resigned his post for a place in the revolutionary cabinet. Between 1867 and 1874 he acted as minister of education and of finance; upon the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty he withdrew from politics, and won a new reputation as a dramatist.
As early as 1867 he wrote La Hija natural, which was rejected, and remained unknown till 1877, when it appeared with the title of Para tal culpa tal pena. Another play, La Última Noche, also written in 1867, was produced in 1875; but in the latter year Echegaray was already accepted as the successful author of El Libro talonario, played at the Teatro de Apolo on the 18th of February 1874, under the transparent pseudonym of Jorge Hayaseca. Later in the same year Echegaray won a popular triumph with La Esposa del vengador, in which the good and bad qualities—the clever stagecraft and unbridled extravagance—of his later work are clearly noticeable. From 1874 onwards he wrote, with varying success, a prodigious number of plays. Among the most favourable specimens of his talent may be mentioned En el puño de la espada (1875); O locura ó santidad (1877), which has been translated into Swedish and Italian; En el seno de la muerte (1879), of which there exists an admirable German version by Fastenrath. El gran Galeoto (1881), perhaps the best of Echegaray’s plays in conception and execution, has been translated into several languages, and still holds the stage. The humorous proverb, ¿Piensa mal y acertarás? exemplifies the author’s limitations, but the attempt is interesting as an instance of ambitious versatility. His susceptibility to new ideas is illustrated in such pieces as Mariana (1892), Mancha que limpia (1895), El Hijo de Don Juan (1892), and El Loco Dios (1900): these indicate a close study of Ibsen, and El Loco Dios more especially might be taken for an unintentional parody of Ibsen’s symbolism.
Echegaray succeeded to the literary inheritance of López de Ayala and of Tamayo y Baus; and though he possesses neither the poetic imagination of the first nor the instinctive tact of the second, it is impossible to deny that he has reached a larger audience than either. Not merely in Spain, but in every land where Spanish is spoken, and in cities as remote from Madrid as Munich and Stockholm, he has met with an appreciation incomparably beyond that accorded to any other Spanish dramatist of recent years. But it would be more than usually rash to prophesy that this exceptional popularity will endure. There have been signs of a reaction in Spain itself, and Echegaray’s return to politics in 1905 was significant enough. He applies his mathematics to the drama; no writer excels him in artful construction, in the arrangement of dramatic scenes, in mere theatrical technique, in the focusing of attention on his chief personages. These are valuable gifts in their way, and Echegaray has, moreover, a powerful, gloomy imagination, which is momentarily impressive. In the drawing of character, in the invention of felicitous phrase, in the contrivance of verbal music, he is deficient. He alternates between the use of verse and prose; and his hesitancy in choosing a medium of expression is amply justified, for the writer’s prose is not more distinguished than his verse. These serious shortcomings may explain the diminution of his vogue in Spain; they will certainly tell against him in the estimate of posterity. (J. F.-K.)