The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Cartas of Feijóo

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Edition of 1920. See also Benito Jerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

CARTAS OF FEIJÓO. The ‘Cartas’ (Letters) and ‘Teatro crítico universal’ (Treasury of Universal Criticism) of the Benedictine monk Benito Gerónimo Feijóo y Montenegro, constitute collectively one of the most important contributions made to Spanish thought during the 17th century, the period of its awakening from the political and intellectual stagnation consequent upon the collapse of the Hapsburg dream of world dominion. They are associated with the earlier days of Spanish journalism, when miscellanies of encyclopaedic character had not yet given way before the periodical press. The ‘Letters,’ as well as the essays of the ‘Teatro crítico,’ a prior and more vigorously written work cover a wide range of topics, from natural history and the then known sciences, education, history, religion, literature, philology, philosophy and medicine, down to superstitions, wonders and salient points of contemporary journalistic interest, all in a spirit of candor and cool judgment, which proved to be of decisive influence in the assault upon 18th century Peninsular scholasticism. The style, especially in the letters, is encumbered by the prolixity of formal eloquence, while philologists have questioned its purity. Nevertheless, Feijóo's was a comprehensive, catholic mind, familiar with the European thought of his day to an extent unprecedented among his countrymen. In temper and content Feijóo is suggestive of the inchoateness of Montaigne, with his mixture of the rational and the fabulous, rather than of the polished sophistication of Addison and Steele. His fame spread quickly throughout Europe, but in the advancement of learning, his writings have been relegated to a place of mere historical interest. It has been commonly said that a monument should be erected to Feijóo, at the foot of which all his works should be burned. The ‘Teatro’ was first published at Madrid (1726-41) the ‘Cartas’ at the same city (1742-60). In the edition of 1777 they occupy nine aud five volumes respectively, to which three supplementary volumes must be added. A modern reprint occurs in volume 56 of the ‘Biblioteca de Autores Españoles,’ with an introduction by Vicente de la Fuente. Consult also Bazán, Emilia Pardo, ‘Feijóo.’

John Garrett Underhill.