Francisco de Paula Martínez de la Rosa (Berdejo Gómez y Arroyo) 1787-1862
Spanish statesman, playwright, poet, historian, essayist, novelist, and children's writer.
An early supporter of the Spanish constitution of 1812 and a minister of Spain, Martínez de la Rosa was a noted playwright whose play La conjuración de Venecia (1830; Tragedy of the Conspiracy of Venice) is traditionally viewed as the first expression of Romanticism in Spanish theater. A revolutionary in his youth, Martínez de la Rosa was imprisoned and later exiled, but nevertheless developed a moderate political view and advocated constitutional monarchy. The theme of political moderation, along with Martínez de la Rosa's moralism and neoclassical manner, figure prominently in his collected writings, which in addition to drama, include significant works of poetry and history. As premier of Spain, he is remembered for his skilled oratory and signing of a treaty to suppress the North African slave trade. As a writer, he is said to occupy a transitional place in Spanish literature, illustrated principally by his historical tragedies, which are thought to represent the shift from eighteenth-century classicism to early Romanticism in Spain.
Martínez de la Rosa was born in 1787 into a wealthy and established bourgeois family of Granada, Spain. His father encouraged him in the study of science, languages, and classical literature, and the precocious Martínez de la Rosa excelled as a student. He received a doctorate in civil law in 1804 and was subsequently awarded a professorship in moral philosophy at the University of Granada. Martínez de la Rosa began writing while obtaining his university degree, often responding through poetry to the turbulent period of Spanish history in which he lived. In 1808 Napoleonic France invaded Spain and Martínez de la Rosa became part of the literary and political resistance. As an active member of the revolutionary constitutionalists at this time, he was sent on a mission to Cádiz to secure weapons for his cause. The following year, in response to a literary contest held by the Central Junta to memorialize Spanish victories against France, Martínez de la Rosa wrote the poem “Zaragoza,” first published in London in 1811. Soon, however, French troops pushed the Spanish back as far as Cádiz and Martínez de la Rosa decided to depart for England, where he was later engaged in both diplomatic and literary activities. After returning to Cádiz in 1811, he continued his involvement in revolutionary politics. His first play, the comedy Lo que puede un empleo, was performed in Cádiz while the city was under siege in 1812. By the time the attack had ceased, he had produced another play, La viuda de Padilla (first printed in 1814; The Widow of Padilla). 1813 saw his election to the governing Cortes as deputy from Granada. The ensuing coup d'état of Ferdinand VII, which restored the former absolute monarch to power, signaled a dramatic shift in Martínez de la Rosa's career. As a leader of the constitutional government he was accused of treason by Ferdinand and sentenced to prison, first in Madrid and later for a ten-year term at the North African Peñón de la Gomera. While in the penal colony, Martínez de la Rosa began his Poética y anotaciones (1827) and numerous other works. A victory by the constitutionalists in Spain prompted his early release from prison in 1820. His political views having shifted from revolutionary to moderate following his incarceration, Martínez de la Rosa was appointed prime minister by Ferdinand in 1822, but the fell out of favor with both the newly-strengthened king and with his former liberal allies by the following year and was forced to flee to France. Exiled in Paris for the next eight years, Martínez de la Rosa wrote what were to become his most enduring literary works, including his La conjuración de Venecia. He was able to return to Madrid by 1830, and reestablished himself both as a statesman and a successful writer. The mid-1830s witnessed the high point of his influence as premier of Spain. He also continued to write and publish, focusing increasingly on history, notably in his ten-volume study of European history El espíritu del siglo (1835-51; Spirit of the Age). Martínez de la Rosa left politics in 1840, withdrawing to Paris in order to pursue his writing, although he was recalled briefly to diplomatic service in 1848 as ambassador to Italy. He died in Madrid in 1862.
Composed while Martínez de la Rosa was in political exile, the drama La conjuración de Venecia features a brooding and pessimistic protagonist, Rugiero, who becomes involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the Venetian Doge in 1310. The coup, conducted in the midst of Carnival, culminates in his arrest. Brought to trial, the Romantic hero discovers his captor to be his lost father, and when sentenced to execution goes peacefully to his death. Aben-Humeya ou La Révolte des Maures sous Philip II (1830) depicts a 1568 rebellion against the Spanish government of Philip II. Its protagonist, Aben Humeya, a member of the old royal family, seizes power only to fall victim to a subsequent coup. Martínez de la Rosa's remaining tragedies include three more historical dramas, La viuda de Padilla, Morayma (1827), and Amor de padre (1848), all of which share a similar formula to that of the above works, presenting failed revolutions, fallen heroes, and tragic lovers. Edipo (1828) is a classical drama based upon Sophocles's Oedipus Rex, while the topical political satire Lo que puede un empleo is representative of the playwright's comedies. First collected in his Poesías (1833), Martínez de la Rosa's early poetry is generally political in nature, commemorating contemporary historical events, such as the Spanish victory at Salamanca and the War of Granada. His long didactic poem, Poética, repeats the tenets of neoclassical poetic theory while defending the merits of Spanish national literature. Principal among his historical works, El espíritu del siglo considers the foundations of government in Europe from the Roman Era to the end of the eighteenth century, with particular focus on the causes of French Revolution. In it, Martínez de la Rosa expresses a political theme of moderation achieved through a proper balance of political freedom and civil order. Other non-fictional works include the picaresque historical biography Hernán Pérez del Pulgar el de las hazañas (1834), and Bosquejo histórico de la política de España desde los tiempos de los Reyes Católicos hasta nuestros días (1857), an examination of Spanish history. In addition to his better known dramatic, poetic, and historical writings, Martínez de la Rosa also wrote a three-volume novel, Doña Isabel de Solís, Reina de Granada (1837-46), and a collection of moral tales, poems, and fables for children entitled Libro de los niños (1839; Book for Children).
During his lifetime, Martínez de la Rosa distinguished himself as a writer primarily through his dramatic works. Among them, the popular classical tragedy La viuda de Padilla, which critics consider to be representative of his early plays, has, like many of Martínez de la Rosa's other writings, since been largely dismissed as lacking any enduring literary merit. His best known play, La conjuración de Venecia, was a considerable success when first performed and while many subsequent commentators have admired its incipient Romanticism, a number of modern critics have tended to view the drama as essentially a neoclassical work, culled from various sources and exhibiting only a few Romantic elements. The lengthy Poética y anotaciones has provided additional evidence of Martínez de la Rosa's neoclassicism, though some scholars have pointed out the significant nationalist qualities of the work. Additionally, the historical romance Doña Isabel de Solís was both a critical and a popular failure, and has generally failed to elicit critical interest. Commentators have found in Martínez de la Rosa's non-fictional writings, however, considerable intrinsic value, especially in the ambitious El espíritu del siglo. Most acknowledge, nonetheless, that his historical studies have been largely superseded by the work of other, less politically motivated historians, both in terms of style and acuity. Overall, modern critical consensus has generally regarded Martínez de la Rosa as neither an innovator in drama, nor a pioneer of Romanticism in Spain, but rather an erudite and prolific writer who synthesized his works from a vast knowledge of classical and modern literature.