A Controversy between Valera and Campoamor

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A Controversy between Valera and Campoamor (Una polémica entre Valera y Campoamor) by Emilia Pardo Bazán is a brief article about the critical reflections and disparity of criteria that confronted Juan Valera and Ramón de Campoamor following the founding of the magazine El Ateneo. Pardo Bazán analyzes the issues debated by them and the omissions they committed.
The cause of such heated controversy was none other than the publication of a prospectus which included the following: “All production referring to any branch of science will be inserted, without disdaining poetry.”
The aforementioned epigraph angered Campoamor, who as a result of these words published in the pages of La Ilustración Española y Americana his theoretical concepts about poetry and opened the debate of whether the lyric was going to disappear.

“Frankly, to begin to publish a scientific, literary journal, launching this contempt against the most divine of belles lettres, seems to me to be of a very questionable taste and typical only of inveterate prosers who only from the bibliography have been able to come to know that Horace has existed (…). To call any scientific trial science proves that prose is a great medium for speaking without knowing what is being said.”

Campoamor’s deep malaise is evident. Valera came to the defense of the editor of the magazine El Ateneo and disagreed with Campoamor’s statements:

“We all have to be prose writers, even without knowing what we are; But poets and metaphysicians do not need to be. The prose writer, then, demands indulgence; With the poet and with the metaphysician, severity matters. No one commands them to philosophize or poetize. It is almost shameless to spend this luxury, when the one who spends it has no capital for it. Does Mr. Campoamor understand in what sense the prospectist says, without disdaining poetry? This poetry that is prepared not to be disdained is that which he suspects may be of bad law.”


In January 1889 two new magazines were published in Madrid, entitled El Ateneo la uno, La España Moderna la otra. The first died in agraz, as has tended to happen in Spain to publications of this species, while the second has just entered the third year of prosperous and flourishing life. And so it is explained that the polemic of Campoamor y Valera, begun in The Enlightenment and The Athenaeum, ended in the pages of Modern Spain, before forming the tomito that will provide me with a subject for some considerations on the serious problems that are debated in it. No one has appointed me as a judge in the case, and the authors confer this position on Menéndez y Pelayo; however, since the question matters, if not to all humanity, at least to much of what thinks, I inhibit myself for now, and if I am not right, worse for me.
The spark that ignited the fiery and youthful wit of Campoamor making him jump was this phrase stamped on the prospectus of the defunct magazine: «All production referring to any branch of science will be inserted, without disdaining poetry». Hurt by what he calls admitting alms poetry, the great poet wrote a generous and ardent apology, to which Valera, a member of the advisory committee of the magazine, did not believe in the duty to answer, but answered for pleasure, because the subject was helpful and brilliant, explaining and justifying the phrase of the prospectus. Campoamor replied even more stubbornly, Valera countered; The creator of the Little poems he squeezed, rather sulphurous and unabashed, and having already vented a portion of his anger on his opponent’s breastplates, vented the rest on the blond head of Ernest Häeckel; then Valera (always diplomatic, Campoamor would say), judged it opportune to close the discussion with a temperate ultimatum. In collecting, in volume, the texts of the dispute (I use this word in the scholastic sense, not in the vulgar one), Valera added to the letters a prologue and many explanatory notes, gathered at the end of the volume.

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