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Destroyed himself, and with him those who made
A cruel mockery of his sightless woe;
There is a poor, blind Samson in this land,
And shake the pillars of this Commonweal,
THE SPANISH STUDENT
The attraction which Spanish life and literature had for Mr. Longfellow was very strong. His diaries and letters indicate, in the eight months of his sojourn in Spain, when he first visited Europe, a constant delight in the scenes which met his eye, and he seemed to form a special attachment for the Spanish people. His Outre-Mer reflects this enthusiasm, and as has already been noted, the first book which he published was the Coplas de Manrique, while his early essays in translation were very generally from the Spanish.
His college work both at Brunswick and at Cambridge not only served to familiarize him with the Spanish language, but gave him opportunity and a scarcely needed excuse for large incursions into the domain of Spanish literature, especially leading him to the writings of Lope de Vega, Cervantes, and Calderon. It was while laboring through the earlier Spanish drama that he noted in his diary, March 27, 1840: “In the evening I read El Mejor Alcalde el Rey, a glorious play of the great Lope. It is magnificent, — full of movement and dramatic power, and with a tide of language like a mighty river. Read likewise the Moza de Cántaro, which belongs to the capa y
espada school. But these are stolen pleasures, glimpses into the dramatic paradise, foretastes. To-morrow I must go back."
back.” So the next day he went back to Torres Nabarro, finished his task, and then proposed to take up the prose comedian Lope de Rueda,“ who, judging by a peep here and there, is full of fun.” And then he added, as if a sudden thought struck him : “A good idea ! Yes, I will write a comedy, — • The Spanish Stu
Whether or no the actual theme of his comedy as he afterward wrote it then flashed into his mind we cannot say, but from his familiarity with Cervantes, one of whose tales suggested the main action of the play and the name of the heroine, it is not impossible that at this time he conceived the notion of a student, as he had seen such in Spain, for his hero and a gypsy-girl for heroine. He seems to have allowed the subject to lie germinating in his mind till late in the fall of the same year, when he made a first draft of the play. “I have written," he says in a letter to his father, December 20, 1840, after speaking of The Skeleton in Armor, “ a much longer and more difficult poem, called The Spanish Student, a drama in five acts; on the success of which I rely with some self-complacency. But this is a great secret, and must not go beyond the immediate family circle ; as I do not intend to publish it until the glow of composition has passed away, and I can look upon it coolly and critically. I will tell you more of this by and by. I hope you will not think me self-conceited because I parade all these things before you. I remember that I am writing to my father.”
There was some consultation with Mr. Ward upon the project of putting the play upon the stage, but the scheme was abandoned, and Mr. Longfellow turned his thoughts toward publication. As has been noted in the introduction to Ballads and other Poems he regarded that book as a sort of avant-coureur of The Spanish Student, but for some reason he decided to issue the play first in serial form, and it appeared in the September, October, and November numbers of Graham's Magazine, 1842, during the author's absence in Europe. Possibly Mr. Longfellow desired to test the public in this way, and also to obtain the preliminary criticism of printing. At any rate, when the book was published in the early summer of 1843 it was in a form very carefully revised from the magazine text; the alterations afterwards made by the author, as may be seen by the foot-notes, were very few and inconsiderable. The book bore upon the title-page a motto from Burns :
What 's done we partly may compute,
But know not what 's resisted. The following preface also was published in the first edition :
“ The subject of the following play is taken in part from the beautiful tale of Cervantes, La Gitanilla. To this source, however, I am indebted for the main incident only, the love of a Spanish student for a Gypsy girl, and the name of the heroine, Preciosa. I have not followed the story in any of its details.