1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Larra, Mariano José de

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LARRA, MARIANO JOSÉ DE (1809–1837), Spanish satirist, was born at Madrid in 1809. His father served as a regimental doctor in the French army, and was compelled to leave the Peninsula with his family in 1812. In 1817 Larra returned to Spain, knowing less Spanish than French. His nature was disorderly, his education was imperfect, and, after futile attempts to obtain a degree in medicine or law, he made an imprudent marriage at the age of twenty, broke with his relatives and became a journalist. On the 27th of April 1831 he produced his first play, No más mostrador, based on two pieces by Scribe and Dieulafoy. Though wanting in originality, it is brilliantly written, and held the stage for many years. On the 24th of September 1834 he produced Macías, a play based on his own historical novel, El Doncel de Don Enrique el Doliente (1834). The drama and novel are interesting as experiments, but Larra was essentially a journalist, and the increased liberty of the press after the death of Ferdinand VII. of Spain gave his caustic talent an ampler field. He was already famous under the pseudonyms of "Juan Pérez de Munguía" and "Figaro" which he used in El Pobrecito Hablador and La Revista Española respectively. Madrid laughed at his grim humour; ministers feared his vitriolic pen and courted him assiduously; he defended Liberalism against the Carlist rebellion; he was elected as deputy for Ávila, and a great career seemed to lie before him. But the era of military pronunciamientos ruined his personal prospects and patriotic plans. His writing took on a more sombre tinge; domestic troubles increased his pessimism, and, in consequence of a disastrous love-affair, he committed suicide in February 1837. Larra lived long enough to prove himself the greatest prose-writer that Spain can boast during the 19th century. He wrote at great speed with the constant fear of the censor before his eyes, but no sign of haste is discernible in his work, and the dexterity with which he aims his venomous shafts is amazing. His political instinct, his abundance of ideas and his forcible, mordant style would have given him a foremost position at any time and in any country; in Spain, and in his own period, they placed him beyond all rivalry. (J. F.-K.)