Menendez Pelayo, a man against his time.Manuel Serrano Veelz.will have lunch Cordoba, 2012. 472 pages. 26 euros.
“Evangelizing Spain of half the world; Spain, hammer of heretics, light of Trent, sword of Rome, cradle of Saint Ignatius…; this is our greatness and our unity. We have no other”. Coming from the epilogue to his most widespread work, the History of the Spanish Heterodox, the forceful words of Menendez Pelayo became a topic that reflected in a premonitory way the fanatic rhetoric with which national-Catholicism extolled the eternal values ​​of the homeland, but there is no room for being stingy with the only title of the author who continues to be republished, read and admired. It has been rightly said that Don Marcelino’s compendium -a work of youth, combative and feverish- has been for decades one of the main sources for the knowledge of authors of whom hardly anything was known.
Except perhaps in the beautiful city of Santander, where he is justly revered, Menendez Pelayo has left the wrong trail. It is not only that most of his work, although in fact it laid the foundations of modern philology, has been relegated to the attic of bibliographical curiosities, but it can be affirmed that despite his proverbial genius and his excellent intellectual qualities, he quintessential polygrapher of Spanish literature, he was in fact a failed author, in the sense that he failed to meet the enormous expectations -not at all unfounded- that had been placed on him. With everything,
Published by Almuzara, the new biography of Manuel Serrano Velez traces the meteoric career of Menendez Pelayo from his childhood as a child prodigy, clearly gifted, to his enthronement as the sage par excellence of a Spain that is politically stable but decadent in almost everything else. which would soon lose its last colonies and where news from Europe was still viewed with suspicion. The anecdotes about his formidable memory and his legendary erudition, the conquest of the professorship at the age of 21 -for which the minimum age had to be lowered, which was 25-, the numerous academic distinctions, the famous controversy of the Spanish science, the atmosphere of the aristocratic gatherings, his political and religious convictions, his firm and irreparable animosity towards Krausism, the formation of his library,
But not all were triumphs. We also witness the bitter drift of the last years of Menendez Pelayo, in which his star seemed to have faded forever. With the authors of ’98, saving Ganivet and partly Unamuno, his relationship in life was one of mutual misunderstanding. Dilapidated and prematurely aged, the distinguished polygrapher – who had never stood out for his personal cleanliness – was dirty and unconcerned about his appearance, he lived almost cloistered in his modest residence – those who visited him described it as a lion’s den – of the Academy of History, He decanted more alcohol than he should have – or so many of his contemporaries claimed – and continued to show a silent but scandalous predilection for mercenary love affairs. It was known that the great champion of Catholicism had never been especially given to religious services, but this relative disinterest and the other features pointed out not only do not diminish his figure, but help to humanize a character who never fit -despite his solid convictions and an aggressiveness that was diminishing over the years- in the narrow mold of fundamentalism. The pure of irreproachable behavior always arouse a logical distrust, but in front of them, the great Christians have very often been great sinners.
Serrano Velez’s work reads well and is correctly written, although without fanfare. If anything, the reader will miss the fact that the biographer does not go much further than the mere exposition of data, without going into far-reaching interpretations or choosing between the different opinions when these -which often happens- contradict each other on purpose. controversial issues. What is not justified, despite being an informative work, is that it does not provide a bibliography of any kind, when it is obvious that the author -professor and documentalist- has handled dozens of titles whose references are not offered to those interested. It can be understood that he dispenses with the notes, so as not to overwhelm non-specialists, but not that he does not list the sources consulted, starting with the works of Menendez Pelayo himself. In any case,

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