Home  »  Volume XVIII: American LATER NATIONAL LITERATURE: PART III  »  § 14. History of Spanish Literature

The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVIII. Later National Literature, Part III.

XXV. Scholars

§ 14. History of Spanish Literature

The History of Spanish Literature is much more like Warton’s History of English Poetry and Hallam’s Middle Ages than it is like anything German. More serious temperamental defects are still to be mentioned. The plain fact is that Ticknor did not possess certain of the indispensable organs of literary scholarship. He lacked ordonnance; he was blind to the French literature of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance; and he wanted ear—especially for verse. His lack of the sense for sequence, arrangement, and emphatic or conspicuous position appears even in the unworkmanlike construction of many of his sentences, and in the misplacement of matter (especially in footnotes) just at the point where random association happened to make him think of it. In his references to French literature, which in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance was so closely connected with Spanish, he disparages Ronsard and misassigns him with the decadents; he has not a word about Du Bellay; and, almost incredibly, he seems not even to have known of the Chanson de Roland. His want of ear and want of the sense of arrangement make his history difficult reading. Only occasionally does it attain anything worthy of the name of style.

Ticknor, as has been intimated, left no school; though American scholars have since studied cosas de España, they do not take him for their point of departure, and his work ends rather than begins an era. While it was Ticknor who turned the attention of Prescott to Spanish history, yet Ticknor’s own History did not appear until after Prescott’s Ferdinand and Isabella, Conquest of Mexico, and Conquest of Peru. It belongs in fact rather with the discursive historical work of Irving and of Prescott than with the minute textual studies and editions which have been the chief task of later Spanish scholarship in this country. Similarly, a direct connection between Ticknor’s teaching and the later teaching of modern languages and literatures would be difficult to trace. Longfellow never studied under him, and took his own scholarship according to his own poetic temper. Ticknor retired from Harvard when Lowell was a sophomore; and there was no sympathetic contact between the two in later years. Charles Eliot Norton came to Harvard after his “Uncle Ticknor” had gone, and his studies in Dante give no sign of contact with those of his kinsman.