Page images
PDF
EPUB

« These delineations are not digested with all the pain* I might have taken with them, had I been less eager for their appearance i but I hate preferred publishing them, such as they afe, at a moment when they may be of the greatest utility, and throwing myself on the indulgence of the public for the faults they contain.'

«It would have taken me three year* to execute this work tolerably* which it was necessary to finish in a few months. If I had delayed it, it Would have been of no Use.'

When M. Laborde pleads 'necessity' as a justification for' haste,' it is natural to inquire whether he means hi«k own or that of his readers; whether he imagines that an * indulgent public' can sympathize with all this ' eagerness;' and whether a work, which ' if delayed would have been of no use,' is indeed worth publishing at all. Justly as we might censure such a flagrant sacrifice of reputation to gain, we confess that we should have felt reluctant to pronounce a verdict half so severe as this ingenious author has contrived to fabricate for himself.

The 'view of Spain' k divided into two parts: ' The three first volumes,' says the author, ' contain a Descriptive Itinerary and a Statistical Account of each province: the two last are devoted to a general view of the country in whatever relates to the different branches of the government and political economy.' (Introd. p. iii.) We are also favoured with a copious Introduction, with some 'observations on travelling,' and a few pages on the ' natural geography of Spain.'

The leading design of the Introduction is to refute the notion, that the condition of Spain, previous to the late convulsion, was worse in any respect than it ever has been. In stating this singular, although not original hypothesis, we shall use the author's words.

«It will, no doubt, appear strange to assert, that Spain was never more flourishing, better cultivated, or perhaps more populous than at pre« '*ent;

'That it has never experienced any decline, never having attained any eminent degree, of prosperity:

« That the splendour of the boasted reigns of Ferdinand V. Charles V. and Philip II. were owing only to military glory and foreign politics, without the welfare of the country being a step advanced.

«"That the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, which are considered as the most brilliant ages of Spain, were less prosperous tha« the eighteenth, which constitutes a part of its supposed decline:

* That the discovery of America was never injurious either to its population or industry, and that it is at present eminently advantageous to both:

* That the inquisition, atrocious and sanguinary as it was in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, did not is those times prevent the increase of population, or the progress of knowledge, while its influence, which seemed to be null, has, for sixty years past, been prejudicial to every kind of improvement:

* And lastly, that if Spain were governed by an enlightened prince, it would, from its present state in the two worlds, be able in a very short time to rise to the highest degree of wealth and splendour, and rival the great powers of Europe.' Introd. pp. v—vii.

Of the object of this preparatory speculation we do not pretend to form an opinion; but we will venture to affirm, that a ' brief examination' of our author's subsequent statements will neither prove nor ' illustrate these assertions,' but will in many instances flatly contradict them. He asserts that * Spain was never perhaps more populous than at present,' although in his chapter on Population he seems to attach some degree of ' probability' to the ' rough calculation' of ' Osorio y Redin,' who assures us that Spain had once a population of seventy eight millions (IV. p. 4), and states as his 'own opinion', that under the Romans there were twenty millions of inhabitants, and under Ferdinand fifteen, (lb. p. 26.) 'Let any one,' he vauntingly exclaims, 'go through Andalusia and Estremadura, and judge svhether the towns and villages were not the same that existed there three centuries ago, and enquire whether any other places were ever mentioned in any chronicle:' (Introd. pp. xxxii, xxxiii.)—but he forgets all the reasoning this ' fact' was designed to establish, when in the aforesaid chapter he affirms that 'abundant vestiges of its former population exist in Spain'; that ' the heights are covered with the ruins of gothic castles, mansions, &c. and through the whole country appear dilapi- dated chapels and other religious edifices.' (Vol. IV. p. 9.)

Nor is our acute odometer more consistent in his attack upon Manufactures. In his Introduction, he thinks that the ' state of agriculture in the reigns of Ferdinand and Charles V. was very bad, and of manufactures no better:' (Introd. p. xxx.) but in his chapters on 'manufactures' and ' commerce' he dispenses with this opinion, and believes that this (viz. 'from the year' 1475 to the year 1598) was a brilliant period for Spain: manufactures of every kind were very much increased, and for a time they became very famous.' (Vol. IV. p. 320.) * Commerce at the same period was in a most flourishing condir' tion, and its ramifications extended to all parts of Europe.' (p. 372.) Such are a few of the contradictions with which almost every page of these volumes abounds; and our astonishment at their absurdity is considerably aggravated, when we find that the author has purposely declined a * full' and collected ' examination', because he thinks ' that the fact*

Vol. VI. K

being stated in their proper places—will have a better effectr How he reconciles the following statements with the doctrine of his Introduction we presume not to inquire.

• Such has teen the state of Spanish literature; sympathising in the vicissitudes of the monarchy, it rose tinder the reigns of Ferdinand V; and Charles I., attained its greatest brilliancy under Philip II. a protector of science, letters, and the arts; declined with the decline of all the branches of administration, civil, political, and military, under the last kings of the house of Austria, and has been rising again with rapidity ever since the beginning of the 18th century.' p. 181.

'The sixteenth century was the most brilliant period of the arts in Spain, as well as of the sciences, of literature, and of the power and grandeur of the monarchy.' p. 235.

Upon the whole we think it sufficiently manifest, that M. Laborde has quite failed in the main object of his introduction ; and that what' have been usually considered as the most brilliant ages of Spain' have been justly so considered. The highest pitch of national grandeur may certainly be fixed in the reigns of Ferdinand and Charles, and the lowest state of national depression at the close of the Austrian dynasty. In the former case, it is freely conceded, many important errors were committed both in external politics and internal administration; and it is fairly deducible that a pertina-" cious adherence to the course of ambition then marked out^ powerfully concurred with other causes to effect thedownfall of the country. As to the latter case, bad as things now are, they were then worse. The civil commotion which followed was in some respects salutary. The foreign powers who made Spain the theatre of their contentions enriched the country with a considerable portion of circulating wealth: native talent was roused to action; the torpor which had for •o long a time chilled the energies of the people was in a degree dispelled; and some advances were made by an increasing population in agriculture, arts, and manufacture*. But the character of the nation as it respects civil and political liberty, and with regard to the first and truest criterion of national happiness — religious knowledge — experienced no improvement j and the government remained—what we fear it will long continue—the subservient vassal of foreign influence and dictation.

Throughout this introduction M. Laborde has totally mistaken his reach, and an inordinate passion for deep and brilliant thinking has frequently made him affected and obscure. Of his talent for general argument, we have already giverr a sufficient specimen: and think it quite unnecessary to furnish an elaborate refutation of the reasoning by which he attempts to shew that the causes assigned for the decline of the Spanish monarchy, viz. the acquisition of America, and the establishment of the Inquisition, cannot justly be charged with any tendency to produce such an effect. The task would not be difficult, nor perhaps the execution of it useless or uninteresting; but we give our rear ders credit for so much sagacity, as to need no assistance in discovering the truth of those reasouings which M. Laborde sophistically attempts to disprove, and shall find ample employment in describing the work for the space which it is intitled to occupy in our pages.

We will only notice one part of the argument in which M. L.. coafutes himself. America was advantageous to Spain, he says, because it 'allowed Charles V. and Philip II. to undertake all the wars which they sustained during their long reigns.' This writer's incoherence is perfectly incredible. He tells us in the Introduction, ' the only return made by most of the distant countries to which the blood of its people and the treasure of its colonies were sacrificed, was the ruin of its commerce and manufactures.' (Introd. p. iv.) After vapouring away for several pages together on the absurdity of these wars; after fatiguing his wits to prove that they were ruinous immediately to the happiness of the people, and eventually to the strength of the empire, the * erudite M. Alexander de Laborde' comes out with this most whimsical of all deductions—that America enriched Spain, because it afforded life and nourishment to this pernicious military system; and though ' possessed of extensive information on a variety of subjects,' he is actually at a loss to know whether fleets and armies can be maintained without money. It would be useless to expatiate on what is so obvious. It may be discovered without much difficulty, that when a monarch obtains possession of powers over which the people have no controul, the people will soon become enslaved, and the monarch despotic.

M. Laborde's settled dislike to ' paradox' having set him upon justifying the inquisition, he assures us it was ' not inju. rious to population and industry,' because its first ravages were confined to ' Jews and Moors;' quite forgetting that he had, already been at the pains of proving that these Jews and Moors were by far the most 'industrious' part of the population. He places great stress on the uniformity of religious belief which this iniquitous institution produced; and then immediately proceeds to tell us (what we have no reason to doubt) that 'the only country in Europe wher^ religion is universally uniform, is perhaps that in which there are most atheist's! among the enlightened part of society.' Thi*

K2

enviable uniformity, this anomaly in jurisprudence, might, as he says, make the Spaniards ' one homogeneous mass of men;' but the alleged solidity was dearly purchased by the sacrifice of all that is estimable in existence,—of intellect and freedom —of personal security and social happiness.

In the remaining part of this introduction, M. Laborde descants on the surprising ' prosperity of Spain in the eighteenth century;' and strengthens his eulogium by a view of some causes which yet prevent its • complete amelioration ;' such as the immense proportion of unalienable territory, exorbitant imposts, impolitic regulations, and pernicious habits. He then bursts forth into a sublime vaticination, evidently pointed at that most wonderful Marcellus, Joseph Buonaparte; which we will not quote, for fear of distressing our readers with a sympathetic feeling of the pangs it cost in the delivery.

We shall now proceed to take a cursory notice of the contents of these volumes, in the order of their arrangement. The introduction is succeeded by some ' observations on travelling in general, and particularly in Spain,' in which M. Laborde discusses the merits of the different modes of conveyance, and conveniences of accommodation, and strenuously recommends this country to the notice of his travelling fellow subjects. After expatiating with considerable fervour on the 'climate,' 'fruits,' 'marbles,' and 'antiquities,' he exclaims—' An exalted destiny awaits Spain, and the improvements of every kind it must one day experience will render travels still more interesting.' In the article intitled the * natural geography of Spain,' M. Laborde takes a brief sketch of the mountains of Spain which he thinks 'are composed of one single mass,' and 'are all ramifications from one another.' He introduces some judicious 'observations on the face of the country of Spain and its climate', from the pen of his friend M. A. de Humboldt; and after making a few remarks on the 'civil and historical geography' of Spain, concludes with • a chronological table of its kings from Pelagius.'

We come now to the largest division of the work, a 'descriptive itinerary' of the provinces, in the following arbitrary arrangement.—Catalonia, Valencia, Estramadura, Andalusia (comprehending the kingdoms of Cordova, Seville, Granada and Jaen), Murcia, Arragon, Navarre, Biscay and its cantons —the Asturias, Galicia, Leon,—Old Castile, New Castile, La Mancha. The remaining divisions are-—' people and districts little known,' Gibraltar, possessions in Africa, kingdom of Majorca. For his information respecting Galicia and the Asturias, our author acknowledges himself indebted to 'Count de Marcillac, a Spanish officer;' for his details concerning

« PreviousContinue »