José Echegaray yEizaguirre Biography


José Echegaray y Eizaguirre was born in Madrid, Spain, on April 19, 1832, to a middle-class family of Basque ancestry. When he was an infant, his father moved the family to Murcia, where Echegaray lived the first fourteen years of his life. The boy received a superior education in Murcia, excelling in mathematics and the sciences. In 1846, he returned to Madrid to enter the School of Engineering, where he was graduated first in his class with a degree in civil engineering. Immediately after graduation, he was hired by the Department of Public Works as an engineer in the building of roads in Almería and Granada. Not satisfied with practical work of this kind, Echegaray returned to Madrid in 1858 to become a professor of calculus at his alma mater, a position he held until the Revolution of 1868. Meanwhile, he perfected his knowledge of mathematics and physics and became the most eminent man in Spain in those disciplines. In 1866, at the young age of thirty-four, he was elected to the Academy of Exact Sciences of Madrid.

His second career as a politician and statesman began in 1868 when political conspiracy ended the rule of Isabel II. Echegaray, who had written a few articles criticizing Isabel’s economic policies, was appointed director of public works and secretary of commerce in 1868. A year later, he was elected deputy to parliament, and, at various times, he held the important posts of secretary of the interior and of the treasury. Echegaray’s...

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In an autobiographical sonnet about his method of writing, José Echegaray y Eizaguirre (ay-chay-gah-RI ee ay-zah-GEER-ray) once declared: “I choose a passion, an idea indite,/ A problem, situation, or a trait,/ And deep within someone whom I create/ I plant it like a charge of dynamite.”{$S[A]Eizaguirre, José Echegaray y;Echegaray y Eizaguirre, José}{$S[A]Hayaseca, Jorge;Echegaray y Eizaguirre, José}

The explosion engineered by this master of melodrama—an explosion in which the hero reveals his many changes—brought new life to the dull Spanish stage that preceded him. Until the arrival of Jacinto Benavente y Martínez, this dramatist with a Basque name—an engineer, physicist, economist, and academician of the natural sciences—was monarch of the Spanish theater. Though he once declared that his earliest memory as a child of three was of sitting on his mother’s lap in a theater, he had no further connection with the stage until after he was forty. Then, during a quarter century of dramatic activity, he composed a total of sixty-four plays of all types, half in prose and half in verse, combining romanticism with the positivist spirit of his times.

Those who see in the profession of the architect Thomas Hardy the explanation of his well-built novels will also give credit to one of Spain’s greatest mathematicians for his well-figured plots. Echegaray’s times were responsible for the excessive passion of his characters, but only the dramatist can be criticized for the forced conflicts and the abuse of contrived theatrical effects. Yet the...

(The entire section is 648 words.)