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Eighteenth-Century Studies 37.1 (2003) 129-140

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Early Enlightenment and the Spanish World

Philip Deacon
University of Sheffield

Ruth Hill. Sceptres and Sciences in the Spains: Four Humanists and the New Philosophy (ca. 1680-1740)(Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. Hispanic Studies TRAC, Vol. 17, 2000). Pp. vii + 296. £33.95 cloth. £16.95 paper.
Jesús Pérez Magallón. Construyendo la modernidad: La cultura española en el tiempo de los novatores (1675-1725)(Madrid: CSIC. Anejos de Revista de Literatura, 54, 2002). Pp. 338. €24.64.
Francisco Sánchez-Blanco. La mentalidad ilustrada(Madrid: Taurus. Pensamiento, 1999). Pp. 386. €20.20.

Until comparatively recently, the intellectual history of Spain in the period following the accession of Carlos II in 1665 tended not to receive its due share of attention. The achievements of the preceding reign of Felipe IV (1621-1665), dominated by major literary and artistic figures like Calderón (d. 1681), Góngora (d. 1627), Quevedo (d. 1645) and Velázquez (d. 1660), were seen as epitomizing baroque culture, which gave way to the alleged stagnation and decay of the more than thirty year rule of Carlos II (d. 1699), usually presented as reflecting the last Hapsburg King's incapacity to govern. The last decades of the seventeenth century were presented as devoid of cultural importance, predating the arrival of Bourbon power under Felipe V (1701-1746), which supposedly reversed the prevailing gloom, leading to the flowering of the second half of the eighteenth century. [End Page 129] Historians emphasized the sense of renewal under the Bourbons, specially Carlos III (1759-1788), in many respects echoing the propaganda accompanying the arrival of the new royal house which was encouraged in official writings throughout the century.

Analytical accounts dealing with the process of Enlightenment in Spain, a complex, polemical topic needing much primary research, seemed uninterested in questioning whether there was continuity between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as opposed to the apparently neat division signaled by the calendar. The two major accounts of eighteenth-century culture, Jean Sarrailh's L'Espagne éclairée de la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle (1954) and Richard Herr's The Eighteenth-Century Revolution in Spain(1958), the first convincing attempts at a global view of Enlightenment in Spain, concentrated on what were evident signs of a flowering of the reformist spirit in various sectors of social, political, economic and intellectual life in the reigns of Carlos III (1759-1788) and, to a lesser extent, Carlos IV (1788-1808). Neither work paid more than cursory attention to the philosophical or scientific writings of the early eighteenth century, ignoring almost completely the potential forerunners of the new thinking under the last Hapsburg monarch, which a glance across Europe to countries like England, France, Holland or Italy might have prompted. The figure of the Benedictine Friar Benito Jerónimo Feijoo, whose first publications date from 1726, was taken as the starting point for intellectual renewal, with the emphasis placed on his role as mediator of foreign, especially French, thought. But there was little suggestion that he might be the most visible representative of a wider movement in Spain to change thinking about science and disseminate the philosophical, especially methodological, consequences of experimentalism and of empirical attitudes to life in general. Nobody seemed prepared to go to libraries and archives to read the books, pamphlets and manuscripts produced in the decades before 1726 to discover whether Feijoo was a lone figure or part of a larger movement for reform.

A scholar who had done precisely that, though her findings encountered little initial response, was Olga Victoria Quiroz-Martínez, who in La Introducción de la Filosofía Moderna en España. El Eclecticismo Español de los Siglos XVII y XVIII (1949), studied the writings of several figures of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries whose ideas about physics and medicine revealed their acquaintance with European scientific and philosophical developments. Her book analyzed the debates surrounding empirical methodology and skeptical philosophical attitudes waged by intellectuals whom she labeled eclectic, principally because of their difficulties...


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