1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Quevedo y Villegas, Francisco Gómez de

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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 22
Quevedo y Villegas, Francisco Gómez de
22262981911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 22 — Quevedo y Villegas, Francisco Gómez de

QUEVEDO Y VILLEGAS, FRANCISCO GÓMEZ DE (1580-1645), Spanish satirist and poet, was born at Madrid, where his father, who came from the mountains of Burgos, was secretary to Anne of Austria, fourth wife of Philip II. Early left an orphan, Quevedo was educated at the university of Alcalá, where he acquired a knowledge of classical and modern tongues—of Italian and French, Hebrew and Arabic, of philosophy, theology, civil law, and economics. His fame reached beyond Spain; at twenty-one he was in correspondence with Justus Lipsius on questions of Greek and Latin literature. His abstruse studies influenced Quevedo's style; to them are due the pedantic traits and mania for quotations which characterize most of his works.

He betook himself to the court and mingled with the society that surrounded Philip III. The cynical greed of ministers, the meanness of their flatterers, the corruption of the royal officers, the financial scandals, afforded ample scope to Quevedo's talent as a painter of manners. At Valladolid, where the court resided from 1601 to 1606, he mingled freely with these intrigues and disorders, and lost the purity of his morals but not his uprightness and integrity. In 1611 he fought a duel in which his adversary was killed, fled to Italy, and later on became secretary to Pedro Téllez Girón, duke de Osuna, and viceroy of Naples. Thus he learned politics—the one science which he had perhaps till then neglected,—initiated himself into the questions that divided Europe, and penetrated the ambitions of the neighbours of Spain, as well as the secret history of the intriguers protected by the favour of Philip III. The result was that he wrote several political works, particularly a lengthy treatise, La Politica de Dios (1626), in which he lays down the duties of kings by displaying to them how Christ has governed His church. The disgrace of Osuna (1620) compromised Quevedo, who was arrested and exiled to his estate at La Torre de Juan Abad in New Castile. Though involved in the process against the duke, Quevedo remained faithful to his patron, and bore banishment with resignation. On the death of Philip III. (31st of March 1621) he recommended himself to the first minister of the new king by celebrating his accession to power and saluting him as the vindicator of public morality in an epistle in the style of Juvenal. Olivares recalled him from his exile and gave him an honorary post in the palace, and from this time Quevedo resided almost constantly at court, exercising a kind of political and literary jurisdiction due to his varied relations and knowledge, but especially to his biting wit, which had no respect for persons. General politics, social economy, war, finance, literary and religious questions, all came under his dissecting knife, and he had a dissertation, a pamphlet, or a song for everything. One day he is defending St James, the sole patron of Spain, against a powerful coterie that wished to associate St Theresa with him; next day he is writing against the duke of Savoy, the hidden enemy of Spain, or against the measures taken to change the value of the currency; or once more he is engaged with the literary school of Góngora, whose affectations seem to him to sin against the genius of the Castilian tongue. And in the midst of this incessant controversy on every possible subject he finds time to compose a picaresque romance, the Historia de la Vida del Buscón, llamado Don Pablos, Exemplo de Vagamundos, y Espejo de Tacaños (1626); to write his Sueños (1627), in which all classes are flagellated; to pen a dissertation on The Constancy and Patience of Job (1631), to translate St Francis de Sales and Seneca, to compose thousands of verses, and to correspond with Spanish and foreign scholars.

But Quevedo was not to maintain unscathed the high position won by his knowledge, talent, and biting wit. The government of Olivares, which he had welcomed as the dawn of a political and social regeneration, made things worse instead of better, and led the country to ruin. Quevedo saw this and could not hold his peace. An anonymous petition in verse enumerating the grievances of his subjects was found, in December 1639, under the very napkin of Philip IV. It was shown to Olivares, who exclaimed, “I am ruined”; but before his fall he sought vengeance on the libeller. His suspicions fell on Quevedo, who had enemies glad to confirm them. Quevedo was arrested on December 7, and carried under a strong escort to the monastery of St Mark at Leon, where he was kept in rigorous confinement till the fall of the minister (January 1643) restored him to light and freedom, but not to the health which he had lost in his dungeon. He had little more than two years to live, and these were spent in inactive retreat, first at La Torre de Juan Abad, and then at the neighbouring Villanueva de los Infantes, where he died September 8, 1645.

As a satirist and humorist Quevedo stands in the first rank of Spanish writers; his other literary work does not count for much. I. I. Chifliet, in a letter of February 2, 1629, calls him “a very learned man to be a Spaniard,” and indeed his erudition was of a solid kind, but he merits attention not as humanist, philosopher, and moralist, but as the keen polemic writer, the pitiless mocker, the profound observer of all that is base and absurd in human nature, and at the same time as a finished master of style and of all the secrets of the Spanish tongue. His style, indeed, is not absolutely pure; though he ridiculed so well the bad taste of culteranismo, he fell himself into the style called conceptismo, which strains after ambiguous expressions and alembicated “points.” But, though involved and overcharged with ideas, his diction is of singular force and originality; after Cervantes he is the greatest Spanish prose writer of the 17th century.

There is an excellent collected edition of Quevedo's prose works with 21 good life of the author by D. Aureliano Fernandez-Guerra (Bibl. Ribadeneyra, vols. xxiii. and xlviii.); his poetical works in vol. lxix. of the same collection are badly edited by D. Florencio Janer. There is a second edition, enlarged and annotated by Señor Menéndez y Pelayo. E. Mérimée, in Essai sur la vie et les œuvres de Francisco de Quevedo (Paris, 1886), has supplied an excellent critical and biographical monograph with a bibliography.  (J. F.-K.)