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Summer 2023 articles

“The very land of romance”: Original Compositions on Spain and the Spanish in The Southern Literary Messenger (1834-1864)1

José Manuel Correoso-Rodenas

Abstract

It is undeniable that Spain and the culturally Spanish has had a strong influence in the shaping of US American identity and culture. From the notions of Jeffersonian Quixotism to the buildings of Rafael Guastavino populating New York, the presence of Spain has been a constant. If we take into consideration the South as a region, this influence is even stronger. Not only historical ties (Hernando de Soto, Spanish Texas and Florida…) but also cultural addenda, like the Carlist participation in the Confederate army, arise. In this sense, it is not strange that The Southern Literary Messenger, one of the most relevant publications of the South as a region and of the United States as a whole, devoted many of its articles to the spread and discussion of topics related to the Iberian country. The aim of this article is to expose how this particular stream of influence was constructed, and which were the aspects preferred by authors and editors in order to highlight Spain. As seen below, concepts such as honor or the so-called Black Legend will be (could not be otherwise) present; however, along with them, other less widely discussed issues will appear, such as the essence of the Canary Islands, or the tragedy of Rafael del Riego, just to mention a few examples.

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  • 1 This article belongs to the activities of the Research Group “Poéticas y textualidades emergentes. (...)
  • 2 José Manuel Correoso Rodenas has also shown how Washington Irving’s nephew Theodore (1809-1880) mix (...)
  • 3 There was an attempt to revitalize the publication between 1939 and 1945, but it did not last long.

1The cultural relationship between the United States and Spain during the first half of the 19th century was strong. Prompted perhaps by the memory of Spanish support for colonials during the American Revolutionary War (1776-1783), the influence of Spanish letters, in particular the novel Don Quixote, on American authors, including Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), Hugh Henry Brackenridge (1748-1816) and Theodore Irving, among others, was notable.2 Spanish culture was also an important force in early American periodicals, in particular in the literary journal The Southern Literary Messenger. The Messenger, published in Richmond, Virginia and which ran from 1834 to 1864 was one of the beacons of American antebellum culture.3 Among its editors, we can count major American literary figures of the period: Thomas Willis White (1788-1843), James E. Heath, Edward Vernon Sparhawk (1798-1838), Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), Matthew Fontaine Maury (1806-1873), Benjamin Blake Minor (1818-1905), John Reuben Thompson (1823-1873), and George William Bagby (1828-1883).

  • 4 As Ginés focuses on the Quixotic influence in post-bellum Southern literature, not many of her stat (...)
  • 5 See, for instance, del Pino.
  • 6 See, Carl Leonard Johnson.
  • 7 For a closer examination of this alternative approach, see Jaksić, who also covers other authors me (...)

2This article examines how original literary work published in this influential Southern journal represented Spain and Spanish culture during the period of expansion and reform. It argues that the image received of the Iberian country relied more often in stereotypical images linked to Romanticism than on factual data. As I will demonstrate, through the journal’s publication trajectory, Spanish history, literature and international relations became familiar to the Messenger’s Southern antebellum readership. As Montserrat Ginés argues, the South has also been a particularly interesting filter of Spanish ideas.4 Other cultural contexts within the United States (see Cruz) were important to the “Spanish reception” in North America. For example, the Harvard Hispanists (led by George Ticknor (1791-1871))5 and, to a lesser extent, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882))6, pursued an intellectual approach quite different from that pursued by Southern writers,7 whose work emphasized history, feelings, and subjective appreciation. Significantly, however, in the antebellum period, the white slaveholding South adopted a series of concepts, including those of honor, chivalry, knighthood, etc., derived in part from Spanish Golden Age literature, to extol a social, cultural, political, and economic context in which the virtue of white masculinity would bear little close inspection. The fantasy of white Southern culture as chivalric, despite the sharp differences between the representation of the chivalric in early modern Spanish and antebellum Southern literature, established a kind of imaginary political kinship reflected in an ongoing literary interest in Spain and in Spanish subject matter.

  • 8 The centuries-long process through which the Iberian Christian kingdoms successively recovered the (...)

3I have identified thirteen original literary pieces on Spanish topics published in the journal. They cover a wide range of historical and cultural topics. However, most of them focus on the Romantic perception of Spain that was circulating in European and American circles, linked to the Reconquista8 and to the imperial past and the revolutionary present of Spain. Bearing in mind the American (mostly Southern context) of that period, clear reasons for this interest arise. The quasi-imperial expansion of the South, westwards and southwards (towards Cuba) were assimilated to the Christian expansion of the different Iberian kingdoms during the Middle Ages. On the other hand, the South’s path towards secession also had an inspiration in the revolutionary process that was happening in Spain at that moment (moving from an Absolute Monarchy towards a Liberal system).

  • 9 As proved in Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana: “to give unto Christopher Columbus, a Geno (...)
  • 10 Before the poem itself, a quotation from Washington Irving’s (1783-1859) A History of the Life and (...)

4Readers did not have to wait long before an original piece regarding Spain appeared in the journal. The first issue, dated August 1834, includes a poem dealing with one of the most attractive topics American intellectuals had found in Spanish history: Christopher Columbus (c. 1451-1506), a historical personage who had populated American letters since colonial times.9 The piece is entitled “Columbus before the University of Salamancas,” and it was signed by Mrs. Lydia Howard Huntley Sigourney (1791-1865).10 Here, Columbus is presented as an assimilation of the Romantic heroes that populated the pages of the most relevant and famous pieces of literature in those days, as Molly Metherd explains:

He positioned himself in his own writings as a bold adventurer and a keen navigator, while the Spanish crown characterized him first during his lifetime as a fortuitous accident and then later as an icon of Spain’s imperialist power. For centuries scholars have returned to the vast Columbian archive in search of the elusive details to support or deny these various claims. Early royal historians like Gonzalo Fernández de Oviedo read Columbus as the intrepid sailor, guided by geographical knowledge and navigational expertise, and subsequent revisionists have portrayed Columbus in roles ranging from evangelist to pirate. (227)

  • 11 All these ideas have contributed to creation of the myth of Columbus in the United States, regardle (...)

5Here, the author still falls under the early representations of Columbus, linked to the Romantic period (first half of the nineteenth century regarding both Spain and the United States). For instance, he is seen as a free-spirited man, who fought against the narrow-minded society in which he had been born in the pursuit of his objective. Institutions such as the Catholic Church (“The Inquisition’s mystic doom”; 12) or the University are depicted as particularly old-fashioned, separate from the rational force driving the fate of the explorer.11 The third stanza is particularly interesting, for it explores a foresight of what the conquest of the Americas would become under Spanish rule, still in a moment in which European colonization of the world was seen as an achievement:

Courage, thou Genoese!—Old Time
Thy brilliant dram shall crown;
Yon western hemisphere sublime,
When unshorn forests frown,
The awful Andes cloud-wrapp’d brow,
The Indian hunter’s bow,
Bold streams untam’d by helm or prow,
And rocks of gold and diamond, thou
To thankless Spain shall show (12).

6Although a deep feeling of Eurocentrism can be deduced from the verses included in the previous excerpt, that label of “thankless Spain” can be seen as an early glimpse of the revisionist literature about the European expansion that would be produced decades later, and which has led to the recent examples of anti-Spanish revolt in several American cities. As known, statues and other tributes to Columbus have been the target of these protests.

  • 12 Ballads were a popular format during the American Romanticism, and along the following pages we wit (...)
  • 13 As known, the sublime has been narrowly linked to the Gothic since its advent in the 18th century. (...)
  • 14 Book that could have also been the inspiration of Alfred Samler Brown (1859-1936) who followed a si (...)

7The next piece to be considered lies among the most beautiful yet disconcerting ones. It appeared on the fourth issue of Volume I in December 1834, under the title “The Peasant-Women of the Canaries,” signed by one Eliza (Eliza Gookin Thornton (1795-1854)). The composition, published in the form of a ballad or a popular romance,12 wanders between the picturesque description of the archipelago in the first three stanzas (“Beautiful islands, how fair you lie/ Beneath the light of your cloudless sky… / Music is ceaseless your trees among”; 84) to an account of several superstitions that were part of the life on the islands. In these final stanzas, the author mentions Spanish cultural issues, like the curse known as “mal de ojo” (“Can the Peasant-mother no charm descry/ to protect from the curse of the ‘evil-eye’”; 184) constructing thus a structure similar to those of gothic stories, presenting “supernatural” events taking place in a sublime scenario.13 These stanzas explore the different types of peasant-women that are possibly found on the islands (mother, maiden…), using the leitmotif of superstition to link all of them. A footnote highlights that one source Thornton used is “D. Y. Brown’s Superstitions of the Canary Islands.” This line offers further problems to correctly establish the material the author was using for her composition. On the one hand, the name D. Y. Brown seems to be a miss-spelling of D[aniel]. J. Brown[e] (1804-1867) who published on the Canaries earlier in 1834. On the other hand, for this author I have accounted two texts that may have helped Thornton when writing her poem. The first of these pieces is the book entitled Letters from the Canary Islands,14 published in Boston in 1834. These letters are especially valuable because here Brown[e] describes his journey from America to the archipelago, and his experiences there, giving a first-hand account of a usually neglected Spanish and European territory. Then, the author goes on to the islands’ geography, history, climate, traditions, etc. However, the source Thornton most likely used was the article Brown published in September 1834 on the Boston magazine The American Magazine of Useful and Entertaining Knowledge, entitled “Canary Islands.” There, Brown continues his account of the tradition of the Canaries, and he specifically addresses that superstition of “evil eye” [“mal de ojo”] that Thornton would later recreate in her poem. This evidence is even highlighted by the reference to the bird species “el apagador,” also acknowledged both by Brown and by Thornton.

8In February 1839 (Vol. 5, issue 2) The Southern Literary Messenger would include an anonymous piece that shares both the characteristics of the original compositions explored here and that of the reviews. Entitled “Velasco—A Tragedy: By Epes Sargent: New York; Harper & Brothers,” the reader can easily think it is the simple account of the publication of the drama Velasco; A Tragedy, in Five Acts that same year by Epes Sargent (1813-1880). However, the anonymous author uses more than half of the text to offer a dissertation on the evolution of poetry in English in the 19th century:

The peculiarities that have distinguished the poetry of the present century, have been eminently discernable in the drama. The poetry that found such favor with the public, as to induce a neglect of the early masters, by appealing exclusively to the passions, or rather the excitabilities of men, produced, for a time, an unnatural excitement, like that of highly seasoned dainties in the absence of plainer and more wholesome aliment. (150)

9The connection with Spain comes when the author starts commenting the play he is reviewing:

‘Velasco’ is a story of Castilian pride and Castilian revenge. The outline of the tale is familiar to the readers of history; but the author deserves the credit of originality, for the manner in which he has filled it up; for the skilful development of the incidents, and for the poetical embellishment with which he has softened the stern and rugged features of the time. (150)

  • 15 See, for instance, Taylor.
  • 16 A more concise exploration of the issue, in relation to the aforementioned historical event of the (...)

10These lines (and the following ones in which the author summarizes the plot of the drama) point to those Baroque Spanish tragedies “de capa y espada” [“cape and sword”] in which pride and honor played a key role.15 Here, some stereotypes about Spain and the Spanish are still developed, like those of Castilian pride and nobility. The author continues commenting on particular excerpts of the tragedy, like the soliloquy of Velasco, composed by Epes following the style of William Shakespeare (1564-1616) and of the Spanish Ángel de Saavedra y Ramírez de Baquedano, Duke of Rivas (1791-1865). Although this tragedy was written and published by an author who developed his professional and literary career in the North of the United States, the ideas Velasco proposes also had a special importance for the culture of the South, like the aforementioned concept of honor. According to Bertram Wyatt-Brown: “Above all else, white Southerners adhered to a moral code that may be summarized as the rule of honor…. Since the earliest times, honor was inseparable from hierarchy and entitlement, defense of family blood and community needs. All these exigencies required the rejection of the lowly, the alien, and the shame” (3-4).16 Again, a similar idea as that of “limpieza de sangre” [“cleanlines of blood”] that spread in Early Modern Spain. Although it is a typically Spanish, early modern concept, it can be assimilated to the American South in terms of race, with the constant avoidal of mixture between citizens of European descent and African Americans/Native Americans.

  • 17 The identity of this signature remains unknown.

11October 1839 was the date when the last “Spanish” piece of Volume 5 was published. Again, we are in front of a ballad concerning Spanish history, signed by one G. W. M.17 In this case, the story deals with a fictional recreation of Sancha of Castile (1154/1155-1208), the daughter of King Alfonso VII of León and Castile (1105-1157) and wife of Alfonso II of Aragon (1157-1196). According to official history, this was the trajectory of the Castilian princess, becoming Queen Consort of Aragon during the Reconquista. However, the ballad published on The Southern Literary Messenger depicts quite a different plot, for its main feature was the love story happening between Sancha and Count Alarcós. The plot of the ballad seems to take place before Sancha’s marriage, when she is still a teenager in the Castilian court:

Where Tagus rolls his golden sands
By famed Toledo’s wall,
And in a deep and lone recess
Of king Alphonso’s hall,

In solitary sadness sits,
A prey of grief and care,
Sancha, the monarch’s only child,
The fairest of the fair. (688)

12From there, the quatrains of the poem explore how Sancha is waiting for her beloved to return from war. Finally, instead of her lover, she receives the news of his death fighting against the Muslims:

‘In distant climes that fearless heart
Was struck by Moorish spear,
And now beneath thy balcony
They bear him in his bier.’ (688)

13Finally, both lovers unite forever in the grave, following a Romeo and Juliet-like outcome.

  • 18 For more information on the circumstances of this publication, and the entire version of the romanc (...)
  • 19 The ballad has received other versions since its publication both in Spain and in Latin America, be (...)
  • 20 Milanés’ version can be understood as specially interesting if we bear in mind the interest that Cu (...)

14This is where certainties about this ballad end. Identifying the author or the sources for this composition constitute, still today, a bibliographical nightmare that needs further research to be unraveled. Focusing on how G. W. M. came to distort history in this way, we have to pay attention to several details. On the one hand, a late medieval Spanish tradition locates one count Alarcos as the protagonist of a ballad [romance] first published in the mid-16th century.18 Then, we have the name Alarcós itself to discuss. To any person minimally versed in the Spanish language, this spell will look awkward. More common options are either Alarcos or Alarcón. In any case, if we turn to the “original” medieval ballad, we see that the relation with G. W. M.’s version is still absent, for Sancha of Castile is not mentioned. However, this legend became so influential during the Romantic period (in which the publication on The Southern Literary Messenger was still located) that authors like Friedrich Schlegel (1772-1829) or the Cuban José Jacinto Milanés (1814-1863) produced theatrical versions of it.19 Despite the lack of success these stage productions had (Chamberlin 28), the moment when they were produced (1802 and 1838,20 respectively) can offer a possibility for this story to come to Richmond.

  • 21 Only a few details about the life of this author are known. He is mentioned on the Acts of the Gene (...)
  • 22 Presumably, via both his Tales of the Alhambra (1832) and his previous work Chronicle of the Conque (...)

15The following two pieces can be considered together, for they share plot, author (Edward Parmele, Esq.),21 main themes, and issue of publication (Vol. 6, issue 1, 1840). They are entitled “Spanish Romance” and “Isabelle, the White Rose of Leon: A Romance of Spain,” respectively. As the reader can deduce, the first of them works as an introduction for the second. Focusing on the first of these texts (pp. 14-15), we can appreciate that Edward Parmele separates himself from other pre-conceived views of Spain closer to the “Black Legend.” If we follow the paragraphs in which the author introduces the story that will cover the following pages, we clearly see how he admired Spain since his early childhood, even labeling the country as “the very land of romance,” associated with heroic feelings, and with the concepts of honor and honorability that have already been explored above. According to Parmele, the Middle Ages was the period when these aspects of Spanish psyche reached their peak. Through the Reconquista, these values were emphasized, not only at war but also (surprisingly enough) via coexistence between Christians and Muslims: “The differences in their respective faiths having been reconciled, or in a great measure forgotten by long intercourse, the Spaniard and the Arabian adopted something of the usages, manners and habits of each other, and often met and exchanged chivalric courtesies in times of peace” (14). Before starting his narration, Parmele offers a last detail of his literary devotions, Washington Irving (“the gifted and inimitable author of the SKETCH-BOOK”),22 considered a model and the author he is following to compose his romance.

  • 23 At the end of the story, Muhammad XII of Granada (Boabdil (1459-1533)), the last king of Granada, i (...)
  • 24 For more information on how this event has been represented in literature, see Dimock.
  • 25 Notice how these lines resemble those of Washington Irving approaching Granada at the end of the fi (...)

16According to this introduction, the romance that unfolds in the following pages (pp. 15-21) is a story set in the last years of the Middle Ages,23 with the last Muslim kingdom of Granada still surviving. Analyzing the different features of the tale would exceed the limits of this publication and would fall out of the scope of this article. However, we can state that it is the story of Isabelle de Castros, the daughter of Rodrigo de Castros, a Leonese nobleman. From there, the plot follows a more or less classical Romantic line, with the love story between Isabelle and Amadour de Mendoza, the captivity of the lady by the Granadan sultan Muza Ali Hammed, the rescue by the Christians, and the marriage that constitutes the happy ending. Besides this commonplace storyline, a couple of characteristics need to be mentioned. The first of which is, again, the changes introduced by the author in relation to the historical events, placing Isabelle’s captivity as the reason for conquering Granada;24 on the other hand, continuing with the idealized vision of the Spanish Middle Ages Parmele seemed to have, at the beginning of Chapter III, we see an ode to Granada highlighting those aspects: “Granada, queenly Granada! -the seat of science and learning, the home of the sword and of the lyre, the bright and beautiful city of battle and of song! Granada, queenly Granada! -the glowing mother of chivalry, or romance and of poetry: beautiful in her rise, proud in her decline, glorious in her fall!” (19).25 It is revealing to see how features such as chivalry are here attached to a Muslim kingdom, when they had traditionally been associated with the Christian universe. Again, the cultural context cannot be forgotten, in which Orientalism had been gaining popularity since the central decades of the 18th century, as explored below.

  • 26 Nothing is known about the true identity of this writer. However, we know that, besides the composi (...)

17The format of the ballad will be recovered in April 1841, with the publication of “Black Musa: A Spanish Ballad,” by an author who used the pen-name Archaeus Occidentalis.26 In this poem, the author explores a historical event happened in the 9th century, during the Reconquista. More concretely, Archaeus Occidentalis focuses on the wars between Sancho I of Pamplona (c. 860-925) and the Muslim dynasty of the Banu Qasi, who continually attacked the lands of Aragon, Navarre, and southern France. In consequence, the author structures the ballad following a pattern that goes from the more particular events to the general state of war, and from the affront suffered by Sancho and his knights

They have taken the Cuirass down, Count Sancho and his Chiefs;
They have left upon their ladies’ lips a kiss for parting griefs.
Each mounts a steed he won in fight, and goes to risk again
A coal-black horse of Barbary, with a long and flowing mane (325)

18to a scenario in which the war is already remembered all across the Iberian Christian kingdoms, as it happened with Sancho, who periled during the confrontation:

And so they said through Arragon [sic], where e’er the sad news went;
And soft Asturia’s peaceful vales reëchoed the lament.
Castile forgets its pride and scorn, a mourning garb to find-
None worthier lived, or, dying, left a fairer fame behind. (326)

  • 27 This is a well-known event (although its historicity is still doubted by historians), so its recept (...)

19Archaeus Occidentalis would continue his exploration of the Reconquista in the second “Spanish” poem he produced for The Southern Literary Messenger: “Spanish Ballads: a Moor's Curse on Spain (verse),” published on October 1842 (Vol. 8, issue 10). In this case, Occidentalis decided to travel to the opposite extreme of the history of Al-Andalus, the conquest of Granada in 1492. The stanzas included in this ballad describe the last moments of the Muslim control over the city, representing the departure of the royal family (“With tearful eyes, and swelling hearts, they leave Grenada’s [sic] gate”; 671), and the curse Boabdil placed on Spain when he was forced to leave.27 Here, the author focuses on exemplifying the different sections of the curse, which shall affect every single layer of Spanish society, from the Monarchy (“Thy Kings shall wear no royal type, save a diadem alone”; 671) to the clergy (“But lull in mere illicit love, the sensual priest and slave”; 671). Besides, Boabdil continues to mention the imperial future Spain (Castile) is about to face with the conquest of America, placing this also as a part of his curse, for this glory will result in the final decadence of the country due to corruption, avarice, and negligence:

  • 28 At the end of this stanza, we can even appreciate a glimpse of sympathy with the independence of th (...)

Thy sway shall reach to distant realms rich with the sparkling gem,
But a burning torch, and bloody sword shall thy sceptre be to them,
Till vengeance meet the murderous bands of plunderers from thy shore,
And give them of the land they seek a grave of clotted gore. (671-672)28

  • 29 One of the most outstanding examples of how this trend was the gothic novel Vathek (1782) by Willia (...)
  • 30 See also Sharafuddin, who offers an interesting overview of the representation of the Orient in Rom (...)

20The allusions to Boabdil that both Edward Parmele and Archaeus Occidentalis included in the texts explored here can also be understood within the stream of orientalism that had begun during the 18th century with the translation and the publication One Thousand and One Nights in France.29 Edward Said, in his seminal Orientalism, has also discussed how this process evolved: “That powerful current in eighteenth-century historical anthropology, described by scholars as the confrontation of the gods, meant that Gibbon could read the lessons of Rome's decline in the rise of Islam, just as Vieo could understand modern civilization in terms of the barbaric, poetic splendor of their earliest beginnings” (117).30

21That same year, in March (Vol. 3, issue 3), a new anonymous gothic narration would be published. It was entitled “Legend of the Haunted Castle” and seems to have followed a classical pattern for this kind of tales: a villain (in this case a female villain, the marchioness), a damsel in distress (Eléna), a passion driving the action (the marchioness’ jealousy towards Eléna), and a supernatural outcome (the hand that touches the Marquis when he is going to be knighted). However, the structure the story presents is more interesting, for it is introduced as a real-life experience. So, in the first paragraphs, we can appreciate how the narrator is a traveler approaching the castle, and how gothic-like sentiments arise in him:

Crumbling balustrades and crazy staircases forbid the most inquisitive adventurer to pursue his investigations much farther; and the terror of the superstitious guides,—for there is no heart which does not quail in the vicinity of that terrible ruin,—urges the traveller to leave the bats and reptiles in undisturbed possession of their accustomed haunts (212).

22From there, the author goes on with his introduction, until addressing the reader stating that what he is going to reproduce is common knowledge among the peasants of the surrounding areas, who have lived with the weight of the legend during their entire lives:

These situations are remarkable, as having been, in by-gone times the witness of a most terrible domestic tragedy. The minutest particulars relating to it are treasured with care by the oldest of the neighboring peasantry, although they affect a certain air of mystery with regard to them, which caused me to inquire diligently before I arrived at the following particulars. (212)

  • 31 For more information about how the concept of the sublime was assimilated within Spanish literature (...)

23Besides all these elements, we could also add the exotic location in Andalusia (“On a branch of the Gaudalquiver [sic], which loses itself among the heights of the Sierra Nevada”; 211); and, again, some of the prejudices on superstitions and devotion that the Gothic had contributed to Catholic countries. Independently of what has been mentioned, this story can be of more interest if we consider the moment in which it was published, long after the first generation of Gothic writers had already vanished. However, scholars like Diane Long Hoeveler have discussed how the conversation between the folkloric, the popular and the so-called “high gothic literature” was a constant at least until the second half of the 19th century (196-228). On the other hand, theorists like Mircea Eliade had also argued that the inclusion of folk-like elements in “adults’ literature” can be considered as a mean of desacralizing myths (i.e. specters) (see Myth). Finally, this analysis cannot be finished without commenting the verses that the anonymous author chose to open the story. They belong to and ode by the Spanish pre-Romantic poet Juan Meléndez Valdés (1754-1817) published in 1780 and dedicated to the Spanish intellectual and writer Melchor Gaspar de Jovellanos (1744-1811). This ode is entited “La noche y la soledad” [“Night and Solitude”], and the author of the “Legend of the Haunted Castle” selected the initial verses of the second stanza: “¡Ay!, ¿por qué así agitarse el hombre insano;/ y, viendo ya los pies, ¡oh, ciego!, abierto/ el sepulcro, gozarte?” (Meléndez Valdés 746). The whole poem is a reflection about death and the Sublime, with mentions of other pre-Romantic authors like Edward Young (1683-1765). So, the selection of this particular ode to open the tale seems to be quite accurate, especially if we pay attention to the first paragraphs of the “Legend,” in which the sublime landscape of the Andalusian mountains is described: “Thick moss has grown over and obscures the once valued memorials of an almost regal pride and magnificence” (“Legend of the Haunted Castle” 211). I cannot forget that the exploration of the Sublime had been one of the main features of the Spanish pre- and early Romanticism, as James Mandrell argues or as publications like Antonio Capmany Surís y de Montpaláu’s (1742-1813) Filosofía de la elocuencia (1777) prove.31

  • 32 Anti-Jacksonian politician who served as Attorney General of Virginia from 1819 to 1834 and as a Me (...)
  • 33 Acts I and II on volume 8, issue 9 (September 1842), Act III on volume 9, issue 5 (May 1843), and A (...)
  • 34 Specially if we bear in mind that this play has remained mostly unknown to this day, both for Spani (...)
  • 35 Like the lack of clarity in his attributions, or the quasi-dictatorial rule he started.
  • 36 In the play, Mina leaves Spain with Riego’s widow towards England, something that never happened.
  • 37 An edition quite obscure today, only known through external references, like James Gibson Johnson’s (...)

24Probably the most interesting piece among the ones discussed here appeared from September 1842 to July 1843, when The Southern Literary Messenger serialized the publication of John Robertson’s (1787-1873)32 drama Riego, or, the Spanish Martyr.33 Due to the length and implications of this text, the play would deserve an independent, longer study.34 In consequence, I will restrict myself to introducing what Robertson’s production meant and some of its main features. Again, we are introduced to a Romantic hero, with the particularity that, this time, we have a real historical character to begin with. Rafael del Riego (1784-1823) was the last Spanish revolutionary who tried to implement the ideals of the Enlightenment in Spain, a country that in 1820 was still an Absolute Monarchy (under the rule of Ferdinand VII (1784-1833)) where the Inquisition still existed. Riego’s uprising in 1820 was the last glimpse of Liberalism until the death of the king in 1833, and his execution in 1823 a big failure and national trauma. Despite the controversies Riego provoked during the three years when he was in charge of Spanish politics,35 this period has been subsequently considered as a source of inspiration for the Romantics, with the sublimation of the heroes that took part (not only Riego, but also general José María Torrijos, executed as well, etc.). So, Robertson’s drama portrays a situation through the lens of the classical historical narrations that Walter Scott had coined in the previous decades (mixing real with fictional characters). The whole tragedy is prologued by an introduction in which the author highlights the main aspects he wants to cover, leaving history partly aside to focus on the human aspect of the heroes and villains (Ferdinand VII is also portrayed). For instance, Robertson depicts a Gothic-like love story between Riego and one Theresa (arguably his wife María Teresa del Riego y Bustillos (1800-1824)) far from any historical evidence, with visits to prison and secret messages. Interestingly enough, Act V lacks any plot or dialogue, and it only comprises one scene in which Riego’s last moments are represented: the aforementioned interview with Theresa and his burial, having Robertson chosen a Don Juan-like scene to complete the drama. This is the scene in which the influx of Romanticism is clearer, for the fate of the dead hero is associated with that of Spain, gathered in the prayers of Mina (Francisco Espoz y Mina -1781-1836-).36 In 1851, a ten-page long review would complete the attention paid to Robertson’s play. It is signed by one J. B. D. and references an edition of the tragedy published in Richmond in 1850 (P. D. Bernard).37

25In conclusion, as the previous paragraphs prove, The Southern Literary Messenger echoed a vision of Spain and Spanish culture reflecting some of the realities of the historical moment. The influx of Romanticism and of the picturesque recreation of “exotic” locations provoked that the editors of the journal decided to include those pieces that could awaken the interest of Southern readers. However, as seen, the texts that have been examined are far from more classical, anglophone representations of Spain, focusing mainly on dark or controversial aspects such as the Inquisition, the superstitious religiosity, or iron-heeled rule over Europe and America during the Early Modern period. On the contrary, the readers of The Southern Literary Messenger had the opportunity of approaching images of a different kind, with peasant women, brave warriors, and leaders of freedom. Revaluing these examples can contribute to understand how the relations between the two countries (and between the South and Spain, as pointed at the beginning of this article) were constructed. The conception of cultural concepts or historical events has varied in the last two centuries, and the picture we get from The Southern Literary Messenger is that of a particular and interesting situation, in which both nations were traversing crucial moments in their respective histories.

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Notes

1 This article belongs to the activities of the Research Group “Poéticas y textualidades emergentes. Siglos XIX-XXI” [Poetics and Emerging Textualities: 19th to 21st Centuries] (Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain) and of the Research Group “Estudios interdisciplinares de Literatura y Arte -LyA-” [Multidisciplinary Studies in Literature and Art] (Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, Spain).

2 José Manuel Correoso Rodenas has also shown how Washington Irving’s nephew Theodore (1809-1880) mixed with the most significant American intellectuals who dealt with Spanish culture (history and translation in his case) during the central decades of the century (“El Inca”).

3 There was an attempt to revitalize the publication between 1939 and 1945, but it did not last long.

4 As Ginés focuses on the Quixotic influence in post-bellum Southern literature, not many of her statements can be followed here. However, the introductory chapter of her book offers an overview of the cultural relations of the American South and Spain, in which she addresses the key concepts of fall and decadence for both regions: “Drawing a comparison between Cervantes’ situation in Spain at the end of the sixteenth century and his counterparts in the rest of Europe, Carlos Fuentes states that Cervantes ‘must wrestle between the old and the new with far greater intensity than, say, Descartes. And he certainly cannot face the world with the pragmatic assurance of Defoe. Robinson Crusoe, the first capitalistic hero, is a self-made man who accepts objective reality and fashions it to his needs through the work ethic, common sense, resilience, technology and, if need be, racism and imperialism.’ Compared with the pragmatism and the resources that Robinson Crusoe had for dealing with the world, Don Quixote is a reflection of ‘the most ludicrous failure in practical matters in recorded history.’ Fuentes places Quixote and Crusoe at opposite poles as literary archetypes representative of the Hispanic and the Anglo-Saxon worlds respectively. Writers of the American South, however, found little in common with the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ archetype.… [T]hose from the South were the first to find in the paradigm of Don Quixote resonances that were very close to their own world. Many southern writers showed an innate sympathy toward the essentially quixotic attitude of tilting against windmills, of upholding concepts of honor and chivalry, however outmoded they appeared to be in a makeshift, materialistic, and secular world. This attitude stemmed from the conflict between an inherited tradition and the values of the modern society in which those writers were brought up. The inherited tradition was based on a patriarchal ethic in which the individual’s sense of honor and his worth in the community were the very touchstone. Modern values ushered in the democratization of society and cultural uniformity, both consequences of the South’s incorporation into the world of industrial capitalism. Fully aware of the futility of ther characters’ endeavors, these authors viewed their quixotic strivings with irony and often with humor, but theirs is also a vision full of affection, sympathy, and understanding” (4-5). Years later, in 2002, reviewer John C. Parrack would go more deeply in this conception of failure that Ginés displays, entering to value the “parallel stories” both the South and Spain had lived: “Although Ginés does not explicitly make the comparison, the events which may be critical are the defeat of the first Spanish Armada in 1588 and the Confederate loss of the Civil War in 1865. Both events to some degree signal the loss of innocence and the beginning of an extended period of cultural frustration” (197-198).

5 See, for instance, del Pino.

6 See, Carl Leonard Johnson.

7 For a closer examination of this alternative approach, see Jaksić, who also covers other authors mentioned in this essay like Longfellow, Ticknor, or Mary Peabody Mann (1806-1887).

8 The centuries-long process through which the Iberian Christian kingdoms successively recovered the land occupied by the Muslims.

9 As proved in Cotton Mather’s Magnalia Christi Americana: “to give unto Christopher Columbus, a Genoese, the Honour of being the first European that opened a way unto these parts of the World. It was in the year 1492 that this famous Man, acted by a most vehement and wonderful Impulse was carried into the Northern Regions [sic] of this vast hemisphere, which might more justly therefore have received its Name from Him, than from Americus Vesputius, a Florentine, who in the year 1497 made a further Detection of the more Southern Regions in this continent” (2-3; empahsis in the original).

For a more detailed account of the representation of Columbus in early American literature, see Larner.

10 Before the poem itself, a quotation from Washington Irving’s (1783-1859) A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828) is included, stating that “Columbus found, that in advocating the spherical figure of the earth he was in danger of being convicted not merely of error, but even of heterodoxy.” This contributes to highlight the sense of conviction and rebellion the stanzas by Sigourney would address.

Sigourney would publish again at the end of 1834 (Vol. I, issue 4), in this case regarding female education.

11 All these ideas have contributed to creation of the myth of Columbus in the United States, regardless of the true nature of the events that were developed after his arrival to the continent, as Christina M. Desai states: “We admired his courage and determination in setting out on a long, perilous voyage, facing impossible odds with a terrified, then mutinous crew. We cheered his safe landing in the New World, where he knelt in thanks and claimed the land for Spain, and friendly natives were delighted to hand over their gold in exchange for gifts of glass beads, wool caps, and hawks’ bells. We read of his triumphal return and hero’s welcome at Court, followed by ill luck and a sorry death, to the end unaware that he had reached America” (180).

12 Ballads were a popular format during the American Romanticism, and along the following pages we witness how the authors who took part in The Southern Literary Messenger chose it to compose their poetry. An interesting discussion of the importance of ballads in the Anglo-American tradition is offered by Tristram P. Coffin: “ANGLO-AMERICAN ballad poems are the texts of ballads, printed without music and judged by the literary standards of Anglo-American culture. These texts, comprising the greatest single art form that oral tradition has produced, are seldom discussed as art by the amateurs and anthropologically-trained researchers who work with them. As a result, most teachers and many scholars think of Anglo-American ballad poetry as something a bit unusual in the realm of human endeavor, something a breed apart from ‘conscious’ arts like drama, concert music, poetry in print” (208). Denys Thompson goes even further, assimilating the use of ballads with an intrinsic religious sense: “The shamans with their narratives and panegyrics and laments contributed to the rise of heroic poetry. Epic poetry can perhaps be traced back through myth to ritual; it was certainly the product of highly skilled and sometimes professional bards” (63).

13 As known, the sublime has been narrowly linked to the Gothic since its advent in the 18th century. Theories like those of Longinus, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), or Edmund Burke (1729-1797) have accompanied gothic productions since the first moments of the development of the new genre. Thus, the sublime has evolved along the evolution of the conception of the landscape, something specially relevant in America. For instance, Vijay Mishra states that “whether defined in Blakean or Wordsworthian terms, or in terms of early nineteenth-century American landscape painting, the sublime was a largely unified category, the source of which was some immense power, understood with reference to the majestic in nature” (289). The landscape of the Canaries, with volcanic mountains and black beaches, is easily understood as provoking a sublime reaction in the author/narrative voice.

Alison Milbank brings this concept back prior to the development of the gothic novel, understanding the supernatural implications mention above as related to the religious supernatural: “Increasingly, just as the sublime in Milton comes to be associated with Satan himself rather than his portrayal, so the rhetorical sublime, which, like Satan, takes the natural sublime into its oratorical web, becomes crucial in the Gothic Novel” (238).

14 Book that could have also been the inspiration of Alfred Samler Brown (1859-1936) who followed a similar structure in his Brown’s Madeira, Canary Islands and Azores (1889). Surprisingly enough, it has laid uncredited even by Spanish scholars to this day.

15 See, for instance, Taylor.

16 A more concise exploration of the issue, in relation to the aforementioned historical event of the Florida Acquisition, is offered by Stevenson.

17 The identity of this signature remains unknown.

18 For more information on the circumstances of this publication, and the entire version of the romance, see the Pan-Hispanic Ballad Project (available at https://depts.washington.edu/hisprom/optional/balladaction.php?igrh=0503%20&%20publisher=Wolf%201856b.

19 The ballad has received other versions since its publication both in Spain and in Latin America, being, for instance, Guillén de Castro y Bellvís’ among the most famous.

20 Milanés’ version can be understood as specially interesting if we bear in mind the interest that Cuba and Cuban affairs provoked in antebellum America, with works like William Cullen Bryant’s (1794-1878) “Story of the Island of Cuba” (1829) or Mary Peabody Mann’s (1806-1887) Juanita. A Romance of Real Life in Cuba Fifty Years Ago (1887) prove. For more information, see Brickhouse; García; Jover Martí and Correoso Rodenas.

21 Only a few details about the life of this author are known. He is mentioned on the Acts of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky: Passed at December Session, 1841, as one of the signers to establish a Library Association in Louisville (149). Later on, in 1860, the city of Louisville seems to have paid him a homage, by erecting a statue of himself (The Louisville Daily Courier, April 18th, 1860).

22 Presumably, via both his Tales of the Alhambra (1832) and his previous work Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada (1829). With great surprise, we have also noticed how Edward Parmele has not been acknowledged as a follower of Irving.

23 At the end of the story, Muhammad XII of Granada (Boabdil (1459-1533)), the last king of Granada, is mentioned.

24 For more information on how this event has been represented in literature, see Dimock.

25 Notice how these lines resemble those of Washington Irving approaching Granada at the end of the first chapter of his Tales of the Alhambra: “To the traveller imbued with a feeling for the historical and poetical, the Alhambra of Granada is as much an object of veneration, as is the Kaaba, or sacred house of Mecca, to all true Moslem pilgrims. How many legends and traditions, true and fabulous; how many songs and romances, Spanish and Arabian, of love, and war, and chivalry, are associated with this romantic pile! The reader may judge, therefore, of our delight, when, shortly after our arrival in Granada, the Governor of the Alhambra gave us his permission to occupy his vacant apartments in the Moorish palace. My companion was soon summoned away by the duties of his station; but I remained for several months, spell-bound in the old enchanted pile. The following papers are the result of my reveries and researches during that delicious thraldom. If they have the power of imparting any of the witching charms of the place to the imagination of the reader, he will not repine at lingering with me for a season in the legendary halls of the Alhambra” (16).

26 Nothing is known about the true identity of this writer. However, we know that, besides the compositions discussed in this article, he also published other shorter pieces between 1841 and 1842, all of them appearing on The Southern Literary Messenger. Probably, the most interesting one is the article entitled “Romance Reading and Writing” (Vol. 8, issue 1, January 1842) addressed to the editor Thomas Willis White (1788-1843), in which he discusses (as Nathaniel Hawthorne was doing more or less at the same time) how the genre known as “romance” should be understood and composed, using the works of Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849) as an example.

27 This is a well-known event (although its historicity is still doubted by historians), so its reception on different media has been wide. For a complete study of this afterlife of Boabdil’s last moments as king of Granada see, for example, Brunson, or, for a more specific approach, Lampert-Weissig.

28 At the end of this stanza, we can even appreciate a glimpse of sympathy with the independence of the Latin American countries during the first decades of the 19th century.

29 One of the most outstanding examples of how this trend was the gothic novel Vathek (1782) by William Beckford (1760-1844).

30 See also Sharafuddin, who offers an interesting overview of the representation of the Orient in Romantic literature.

31 For more information about how the concept of the sublime was assimilated within Spanish literature and culture, see Correoso Rodenas and Rigal Aragón.

32 Anti-Jacksonian politician who served as Attorney General of Virginia from 1819 to 1834 and as a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1834 to 1839. Little is known about his labor as a writer. One of the few mentions we have today appeared on Oscar Fay Adams’ A Dictionary of American Authors, in which Riego is mentioned along with a book of verse entitled Opuscula (318). These seem to have been the only literary works Robertson produced.

33 Acts I and II on volume 8, issue 9 (September 1842), Act III on volume 9, issue 5 (May 1843), and Acts IV and V on volume 9, issue 7 (July 1843). Before Act III, a printing mistake was incorporated, for the first page of the drama is again reproduced.

In 1872, the play would be published independently as a pamphlet. On the cover, it is announced that the text has been “reconstructed and greatly abridged.” Both the version included in The Southern Literary Messenger and the version published in 1872 are introduced by a note from the Westminster Review: “That man must be dead to every elevated thought and every generous sentiment, who does not feel indignation and sorrow in considering the TRAGIC CLOSE OF THE GREAT DRAMA OF THE SPANISH REVOLUTION; the rise of which excited so much interest, and inspired so much hope.”

34 Specially if we bear in mind that this play has remained mostly unknown to this day, both for Spanish and for American scholars. For example, it is not mentioned in Carmen de Burgos’ biography and afterlife of Rafael del Riego Gloriosa vida y desdichada muerte de Riego (2013), although she does mention a previous play based on his life: Spanish Martyrs or Death of Riego (1825), by Henry M. Milner. Robertson’s drama is not mentioned either in Víctor Sánchez Martín’s Doctoral Dissertation, one of the best and most recent approaches to Rafael del Riego in Spain in recent years.

A modern, annotated edition would also be a great contribution both to literary and to historical studies.

35 Like the lack of clarity in his attributions, or the quasi-dictatorial rule he started.

36 In the play, Mina leaves Spain with Riego’s widow towards England, something that never happened.

37 An edition quite obscure today, only known through external references, like James Gibson Johnson’s Southern fiction prior to 1860: An Attempt at a First-Hand Bibliography (75).

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References

Electronic reference

José Manuel Correoso-Rodenas, “The very land of romance”: Original Compositions on Spain and the Spanish in The Southern Literary Messenger (1834-1864)European journal of American studies [Online], 18-2 | 2023, Online since 03 July 2023, connection on 20 April 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/ejas/19866; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/ejas.19866

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About the author

José Manuel Correoso-Rodenas

José Manuel Correoso-Rodenas holds a PhD in English (Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, Spain) and he is currently an Assistant Professor of English at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (Spain). His areas of interest and research are mainly Gothic Literature and Native American Studies. Among his recent publications, some of the most outstanding examples are: Flannery O’Connor y la literatura gótica (Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha) and “The Hybrid (Gothic) Categories of Manifest Destiny (Vols. 1-6)” (Ediciones de la Universidad de Salamanca). He has also edited the volume Teaching Language and Literature On and Off-Canon (IGI Global).

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Copyright

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The text only may be used under licence CC BY-NC 4.0. All other elements (illustrations, imported files) are “All rights reserved”, unless otherwise stated.

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