Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo

Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo, reproduction of painting by Joaquín Sorolla.

Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo (Spanish pronunciation: [maɾθeˈlino meˈnendeθ i peˈlaʝo]; 3 November 1856 19 May 1912[1]) was a Spanish scholar, historian and literary critic. Even though his main interest was the history of ideas, and Hispanic philology in general, he also cultivated poetry, translation and philosophy.


He was born at Santander where he showed that he was an infant prodigy. At only 15, he studied under Manuel Milà i Fontanals at the University of Barcelona (1871–1872), then proceeded to the central University of Madrid. His academic success was unprecedented; a special law was passed by the Cortes to enable him to become a professor at 22. Three years later, he was elected a member of the Real Academia Española; but he was already well-known throughout Spain.

His first volume, Estudios críticos sobre escritores montañeses (1876), had attracted little notice, and his scholarly Horacio en Español (1877) appealed only to students. He became famous, through his Ciencia española (1878), a collection of polemical essays defending the national tradition against the attacks of political and religious reformers. The unbending orthodoxy of this work is even more noticeable in the Historia de los heterodoxos españoles (1880–1886), and the writer was hailed as the champion of the Ultramontane party. As the Catholic Encyclopedia (1908–10) described his work, "Every page of his writings reveals a wealth of strong common sense, clear perception, and a vein of wonderful and ever varying erudition. Thoroughly Catholic in spirit, he found his greatest delight, he declared, in devoting all his work to the glory of God and the exaltation of the name of Jesus."[2]

His lectures (1881) on Calderón established his reputation as a literary critic, and his work as an historian of Spanish literature was continued in his Historia de las ideas estéticas en España (1881–1891), his edition (1890–1903) of Lope de Vega, his Antología de poetas líricos castellanos (1890–1906), and his Orígenes de la novela (1905). Although some of his judgments, mainly those related to the defense of Spanish tradition, are no longer accepted, his studies of Spanish literature (Medieval, Renaissance, and Golden Age) are still valuable.[3]

He was professor of Spanish literature at the University of Madrid (1878–98) and director of the Biblioteca Nacional de España (1898–1912).

He died at Santander. He is buried in Santander Cathedral, where his monument may still be seen.


Among his many disciples can be mentioned: Adolfo Bonilla y San Martín, editor of the Obras completas of Miguel de Cervantes, among other works; Ludwig Pfandl, German Hispanist and biographer of many important Spanish historical figures; Ramón Menéndez Pidal, founder of Hispanic philology as a scientific discipline; and José María Sánchez Muniaín, chair of Aesthetics at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, who compiled the Antología general de Menéndez Pelayo.

Summary of Important Works

La ciencia española (1876) is a claim of the existence of a scientific tradition in Spain. Horacio en España (1877) is an analysis of the translations of Horacio in Spanish literature, according to Horacio’s classical dispositions. His work Historia de los heterodoxos españoles (1880-1882) is particularly famous and valued today especially where the christian traditions of Spain are studied. From the Middle Ages to the ending of the 19th century, he breaks down the work of all the thinkers and writers persecuted by the Spanish Catholic traditions, taking the perspective of Catholicism. In his second edition he corrected some of his perspectives, but not, for example, his jests and ironies against the Krausists and the Hegelianists, especially Emilio Castelar. Historia de las ideas estéticas en España (1883-1891) is five volumes long and very up to date. They explore, summarize, and reinterpret the existing bibliography about literary esthetics and artistics in distinct eras of the Spanish cultural tradition.[4]

Menéndez Pelayo took on three large works that would keep him occupied almost until the time of his death. One is the publication of Obras de Lope de Vega (1890-1902), written in 13 volumes; the second is the Antología de poetas líricos castellanos (1890-1908), another 13 volumes dedicated to medieval poetry, except for the last, dedicated to Juan Boscán. As well, despite its title, it includes epic poetry along with didactic poetry, changing Antología instead to Hisoria de la poesía castellana en la Edad Media, the title of the reprint in 1911. The third work is his study of Orígenes de la novela, three volumes published in 1905, 1907, and 1910, with a fourth, posthumous, volume in which he analyzes the imitations that gave place in the 16th century for La Celestina. He published simultaneously a four volume work called Antología de poetas hispano-americanos (1893-1895), which in reality is Historia de la poesía hispanoamerica, as it was titled in the 1911 reedit. He corrected in this edition his appreciations of Peru, after having contact with Marqués de Montealegre de Aulestia. The 1911 edition is a general study of all hispanic-american poetry which served to flatter the ex-colonies with the old and decadent peninsula. He reprinted his work Estudios de crítica literaria (1892-1908) in five volumes and some Ensayos de crítica filosófica (1892), in parallel form to each other, which were done in his namesake as the director of the National Library of Madrid.[5]


Statue of Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo in the lobby of the Biblioteca Nacional de España.

Works in translation

See also



Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Menéndez y Pelayo, Marcelino.
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