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2: Oxford

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    I was attached to Oxford university from 1929 to 1937, first to Christ Church (1929-36), then to Magdalen (1937). In American parlance, I majored in French, minored in Spanish. Oxford at that time had a remarkable succession of Hispanists, notably Salvador de Madariaga, Federico de Onís, Dámaso Alonso, and Jorge Guillén. It was Madariaga who influenced me to move over to Spanish, and I recall him with admiration and affection. He was an engineer by training, and Oxford gave him an honorary M.A. to make him acceptable to humanists. He had in fact already made some valuable contributions to the humanities, notably his 1920 book Shelley and Calderón and his 1923 book The Genius of Spain, both published by Oxford University Press. He was best known for his work at the League of Nations, and his Oxford professorship was just an interlude in his long career. It was my great good fortune that I was at Oxford during that interlude.

    This is a good place to summarize the career of Don Salvador, well encapsulated in the chapter on him in Paul Preston, Las Tres Españas del ‘36. The title’s reference to the three Spains means that the Civil War, which broke out in 1936, divided the Spanish people into three groups: For the Republic, for Franco, or critical of both sides. Madariaga belonged to the last group. Paul Preston entitles his chapter on Madariaga “A Quixote in Politics.” Because of his campaign to have the League of Nations intervene in Manchuria, Madariaga was described as “Don Quijote de la Manchuria,” a play of course on Don Quijote de la Mancha. Madariaga regarded himself as a Don Quixote. While I was at Oxford he was writing Don Quijote. An Introductory Essay in Psychology, which Oxford University Press published in 1934. Despite his quixotic failures in politics, he won international respect as a believer in a united Europe and indeed a united world. He was given honorary doctorates by Oxford and Princeton, he was elected to several academies, and he was awarded both the Goethe and Charlemagne Prizes. He was less appreciated in Spain, where his intervention in politics had not been very happy.

    He was born in La Coruña, Galicia in 1886. Since he was only twelve in 1898, it is a little inaccurate to call him a member of the liberal Generation of ‘98, but he recalled the war with the United States, which aroused great fear in that northwestern corner of Spain. General Franco, born in nearby El Ferrol, was a typical gallego, but Madariaga was not. His name is Basque, and because he ardently defended the thesis that Christopher Columbus was a Spanish Jew, it has been suggested that Madariaga himself had Jewish blood. His father was an army colonel, who, convinced that the defeat of Spain in 1898 was due to technological backwardness, sent young Salvador to France to study engineering. He graduated from two prestigious institutions, the École Polytechnique and the École Nationale Supérieure des Mines. In 1911 he was appointed a railway engineer, a job which allowed him to travel widely in Spain and deepen his affection for the country.

    He was completely fluent in French, and he added an English leg to his linguistic tripod when he went to England and married an economic historian, Constance Archibald. They had two daughters, Nieves and Isabel (now a Russian historian at the University of London). I got to know them well when I went to Spain, and they were so kind I felt like a member of the family. In Madrid he became part of the group of intellectuals known as “the men of 1914.” They included figures later to be famous: José Ortega y Gasset, Manuel Azaña (destined to be the last president of the Republic), and Fernando de los Ríos; more about them later. These were the stars of the liberal newspaper El Sol, which competed with the less intellectual monarchical ABC, and of the weekly España. It was then that Madariaga became a journalist, an activity which made him well-known to the general public. During World War I, Madariaga went to London at the invitation of the Foreign Office to write articles to be distributed in Spain. He also wrote for the Times Literary Supplement and for the Manchester Guardian. He attended a League of Nations conference in Barcelona and there was offered a job as press officer for the Secretariat. He became chief of the Disarmament Department of the League, a post he held until 1927, when he resigned for bureaucratic reasons. Spain was under the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, and Madariaga blamed Alfonso XIII, whom he had met in Paris, for what he regarded as a disaster.

    Oxford University had just created the Alfonso XIII Chair of Spanish, and Madariaga accepted it, disregarding (fortunately for me) criticism for his accepting a chair honoring the monarch he despised. He came later to love Oxford, which provided him with a refuge during the Franco dictatorship, but his first impressions of the university were mixed. He has left an amusing account of them in his memoirs, Morning without Noon (1974). He continued to write, notably the first version of his book Spain, which appeared in 1935 and was to go through several editions, updated and enlarged.

    At Oxford he seemed to us students less monkish, more lively, than most professors. I took a seminar in which he compared two novelists, the liberal, anticlerical Galdós and the conservative, Catholic Pereda, to the great advantage of the former. Incidentally, these two nineteenth century writers were close friends, whereas in the Spain of 1936 they would have been on opposite sides and probably hated each other. The seminar introduced us to the early, liberal Madariaga; later he was to become conservative, even reactionary. I was fairly conservative and sympathetic to religion. In the Oxford system of those days there was a written and oral examination which, in American terms, divided lower from upper division. To ensure fairness, examiners were brought in from other universities. I wondered who the examiner in Spanish would be. The written essay question was on the nineteenth-century novel. I wrote a long, eloquent piece denouncing the literary values of Salvador de Madariaga. Then came the oral examination; I wondered who the examiner would be. When I was ushered into the room, I saw to my horror that it was Madariaga; the system had broken down. Most professors would have given me a low or even failing grade, but Madariaga received me with a friendly smile, saying “I liked your essay and I have a scholarship for you to go to Spain.” It was the de Osma scholarship at the Instituto de Valencia de Don Juan. Thus I went to Madrid in late March, 1931; more about that in the next chapter. And thus began my long connection with Salvador de Madariaga. He did not have a son, and he treated me like one.

    In 1930, just after these events, Don Salvador went on sabbatical to give lectures in the United States, Mexico and Cuba. I lost touch with him until 1934. While he was in Havana he read in the press that the new Republican government had named him Ambassador in Washington without consulting him. Most of the old ambassadors were monarchists, so the Republic replaced them with literary figures who could enhance its prestige: Ramón Pérez de Ayala in London, and Américo Castro in Berlin. More about both of them later. Madariaga spent less than two months in Washington, since he was also attached to the Council of the League of Nations in Geneva. As second to Foreign Minister Alejandro Lerroux, who knew virtually no French, Madariaga would therefore write his speeches, which he would read in almost incomprehensible French.

    Madariaga left Geneva in 1934 when he was appointed Minister of Education by Lerroux, who was now prime minister. After a short period he moved to the Ministry of Justice, but his service there was only ten days, since the Lerroux government fell. This was the virtual end of his political career. He never achieved the post of Foreign Minister, for which he thought himself the best qualified person. He was regarded as a Quixote who could get Spain into dangerous adventures. He had been elected deputy by his home town la Coruña without his campaigning, but even in parliament he was pushed aside, detested by the rightist CEDA government because of his defense of Azaña and by the left, whose view of him as now a reactionary was confirmed by his book Anarquía o jerarquía.

    Back in Oxford, when Madariaga went to Cuba and Mexico on sabbatical, Federico de Onís was appointed visiting professor. Unlike Madariaga, he was a career academic, being Professor of Spanish at Columbia University and director of its Spanish House. Born in 1885, he had taught at Oviedo and Salamanca before going to New York in 1916. He left no monumental work, being best known for his studies of Spanish classics and an anthology of Spanish and Spanish American poetry. Like the other Spaniards I studied under at Oxford, he was a brilliant lecturer, unlike most of their northern colleagues. Being in New York, unlike most Spanish intellectuals he was not involved directly in Spanish public life. More about my New York meeting with him after the Civil War, see the last chapter.

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    William J. Entwistle was appointed to succeed Madariaga in the Oxford chair. Born in China in 1896, of missionary parents, he was. unlike Madariaga, a scholars’ scholar, as Madariaga himself generously recognized. His knowledge of many languages gave him a rare expertise in comparative literature. This was exemplified in The Arthurian Legend in the Literatures of the Spanish Peninsula (1925), which also indicated his preference for medieval literature, as did European Balladry (1939). He spoke poor Spanish, but he wrote the monumental Spanish Language (1936). He named me to the Esme Howard Scholarship which took me to Spain in 1934. Unlike the Spaniards, he was a dull lecturer; he read his lectures, which afterwards were incorporated into a book. Unlike them and most other British Hispanists, he did not take sides in the Civil War, since he held that scholars should be above political turmoil.

    One of my tutors was Jorge Guillén, a charming, sensitive man who gave me every encouragement. Born in Valladolid in 1893, he studied in Spain, Switzerland and Germany and taught in Murcia and Seville before coming to Oxford in 1929. When the republic came he went to the University of Seville, but he left his chair there in 1938 because of the Civil War and went to the United States, where he taught in Wellesley until his death. He was famous for his collection of poems entitled Cántico, published first in 1928. There were three subsequent editions, each one with more poems. This book was sufficient to gain him reputation as a great poet, although personally I found it too abstruse. He was modest about his fame. He was a sensitive lecturer. When Gabriel Miró died, he came to the lecture hall almost in tears and launched into a spontaneous elegy in Spanish, beginning “Gabriel Miró has died!” Since we did not know Miró, we did not share his feelings and his oratory, albeit sincere and touching, was overly dramatic.

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    Another Spaniard of the Oxford galaxy was Dámaso Alonso, born in Madrid in 1898. He must have been apolitical, since he returned to Spain and under Franco became Professor at the University of Madrid, and a member of the Royal Academy, of which he later was named president. I saw him in Madrid at that time. A plump little man and a hypochondriac, when he was in Oxford he complained constantly about his health and told me, his student, to take his pulse to see for myself. I dutifully did so. I loved listening to him lecture because, when he opened his mouth, I had a splendid view of his tongue moving according to the laws of phonology. He too was a poet, but the title of his best known collection, Hijos de la Ira (Sons of Wrath) indicated that he was temperamentally far removed from the sweetness of Guillén. The poems themselves reveal a man with all kinds of complexes. I am impervious to the charms of modern Spanish poetry, and I appreciated him more as a scholar. However, there again I was not on his wavelength. He led the cult of the Golden Age poet Góngora and the dramatist Calderón, both baroque and unreal. All the scholars of this school thought of themselves as aesthetes, a pose which impressed me as egocentric at a time when Spain desperately needed more civic responsibility.

    Curiously, Dámaso Alonso had high regard for the poetry of Salvador de Madariaga, about which little is said. He devoted to him the study Salvador de Madariaga, Poeta (La Coruña, 1979). It was a tribute to him on his death in 1978.

    Finally, among my instructors I should mention Enrique Moreno Baez, although he did not have the fame of the others. Born in Seville in 1908, he was only three years older than I, and we became good friends. He returned to Spain and became Professor at the University of Oviedo. His special field of research was the picaresque novel Guzmán de Alfarache, of which he published a study in 1948. His anthology of Spanish poetry (1952) was well received. In 1954 he published a book on art, poetry and criticism from the Christian viewpoint, which suggests that he was an active Catholic, although that never came out in our conversations. It seems as though he was in tune with the Catholic Spain of Franco, although I lost touch with him and have no proof of this. He later published editions of and commentaries on many Spanish authors. His Reflexiones sobre el Quijote (1968) went into three editions. His interests broadened to include Argentine literature; His Poesía Gauchesca Argentina appeared in 1953. He also studied European culture in general. Los Cimientos de Europa (1971) was reissued in 1996 by the University of Santiago de Compostela, suggesting that it had saintly blessing. He was not vocal in politics.

    One Spanish writer I met in Oxford who did not impress me favorably was Ramón Pérez de Ayala, who had been rewarded for his support of the Republic with his appointment as Ambassador to London. The Spanish Society of which I was an officer invited him to Oxford and gave a banquet for him. He was well-known as a novelist, and I went to Blackwells to get one so that he could autograph it for me. The only one Blackwells had was A.M.D.G.,  a reference to the Jesuit motto “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam”. Ayala had studied with the Jesuits, and this book was a gross attack on them in line with the leftist charge that the woes of Spain could mostly be traced back to the Jesuits. The Republican constitution had ordered the dissolution of the Jesuit Order and the confiscation of its properties. Smiling through his teeth, blackened presumably by cigarette-smoking, Ayala signed the book expressing pleasure at the anger his book had aroused among the Jesuits and their friends. I took a dislike to him, since he impressed me as being an opportunist as well as an undistinguished writer. My hunch proved correct. After the defeat of the Republic, he went into exile in Argentina, but he soon returned to Madrid, like another erstwhile Republican, Pío Baroja. He engaged in writing articles for papers like the monarchist newspaper ABC. He simply wanted to lead the pleasant life of a Madrileño. Even Gerald Brown says “he was a lazy, comfort-loving man.” His novels, which he wrote before the Civil War, exemplify the flimsy essence of the bulk of the literature of the period and the triviality of the writers themselves.

    While I was extremely lucky to study at Oxford when there were so many luminaries in the field of Spanish, there were limitations which seem odd today. Although there was an academic place for Catalan because its ties to provençal and therefore to French, Portuguese was beyond the pale. In the eyes of the classicists, and the French, Italian and German specialists, Spanish was barely inside it. I studied Portuguese privately with Entwistle. In those pre-aviation days, Latin America seemed to be in a different world. Even Spain was distant and exotic. The Spanish themselves showed little interest in it except for its Spanish colonial past. There were no courses on it at Oxford, but toward the end of his life Entwistle ventured into the field of Spanish American literature. Even academic interest in the United States was rare in England then. It is difficult to conjure up those days now, when many British universities have institutes of United States and Latin American studies.

    At Oxford medieval and modern European languages were housed in the Taylor Institution, named after the architect Sir Robert Taylor (1714-1788), who left a bequest to establish the teaching of modern European languages in Oxford University and to provide a building for it. A century later (1893) the Ashmolean Museum was built as part of the same complex. As a splendid representative of the eighteenth-century enlightenment, Sir Robert Taylor deserves to be rescued from oblivion. In 1988, to mark the centennial of his death, the Taylor Institution staged an exhibit of which there is a catalog, The European Languages: A Selection of Books from the Taylor Institution in Commemoration of the Death of Sir Robert Taylor, 27 September 1788.  Although officially the Taylor Institution, it is generally known as the Taylorian. I must admit that in all the years I haunted the Taylorian, it never occurred to me to think about the origin of the name. Such is fame. Everyone has heard of Jack the Ripper, but quiet benefactors like Sir Robert Taylor?

<< 1: Early Years: Distant Spain || 3: 1931: Madrid: The Fall of the Monarchy and the Proclamation of the Republic >>