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Leandro Fernandez de Moratín
Spanish poet and playwright, b. at Madrid, 10 March, 1760; at Paris, 21 June, 1828. He is usually known as the younger Moratín, and was the son of Nicolás Fernández de Moratín (1737-80), a lawyer and professor of poetry at the Imperial College, also a playwright. The elder Moratín had devoted himself to attempting to reform the Spanish drama and had written several plays after the style of Racine and Corneille. In 1762 he had published his "Desengano aI Teatro Español" in which he criticized the old drama and especially "Auto Sacramental" which still flourished. So succesful was this work, that three years later the exhibition of "Autos" was forbidden by royal edict. All his works were "La Petimetra"; "Guzmán el Bueno" and, probably the best known, "Hormesinda", a tragedy. Knowing by his own experience how precarious was literature as a means of livelihood, the elder Moratín apprenticed his son to a jeweller, thinking in this way to develop his son's artistic skill. While serving as apprentice, young Leandro won two prizes offered by the Academy, one in 1779 with an epic ballad entitled "La toma de Granada", and the other in 1782 with "La lección poética", a satire upon the popular poets of the day. These brought him to the notice of the statesman and author Jovellanos, through whose influence Moratín was appointed secretary to Count Cabarrus upon the latter's special mission to France in 1787. During the year that he spent in Paris he improved the opportunity to study the French drama and formed friendships with men of !etters, both of which circumstances aided materially in the artistic development of the young poet. Returning to Spain in 1789, Moratín set out to continue the work begun by his father of reforming the Spanish drama upon the French classical model. He secured the patronage of Manuel Godoy, prime minister and favourite of Charles IV, through whose influence he was able in 1790 to stage the first of his plays, "El Viejo y la Niña", a comedy in three acts and in verse. This was followed in 1792 by "La Comedia nueva" or "El Café" in two acts and in prose. In the same year Godoy gave him the means for foreign travel and his journey through France, England, the Low Countries, Germany, and Italy completed his education. His text play "El Barón" was produced in 1803, followed in 1804 by "La Mojigata" (The female hypocrite), a weak imitation of Molière's "Tartuffe". An unsuccessful attempt was made to suppress this last piece on religious grounds by means of the Inquisition. Moratín's crowning triumph came in 1806 when the second of his prose comedies and his best work "El Si de las Niñas" was produced. Performed before crowded houses night after night, it ran through several editions in one year, and was translated into several foreign languages. In 1808, upon the fall of his friend Godoy, Moratín was compelled to flee from Spain, but returned shortly afterward to accept from Joseph Bonaparte the post of royal librarian, a lack of patriotism which lost him the friendship of loyal Spaniads, so that when the Spaniards returned to power Moratín was compelled to pass the rest of his days in exile, principally in Paris where he died. In addition to the works mentioned, Moratín made a rather poor translation of Hamlet, and translated and adapted to Spanish stage Molière's "Ecole des Maris" and "Le Médecin Malgré Lui" under the titles respectively of "La Escuela de los Maridos" and "El Médico á Palos". During his exile he wrote a history of Spanish drama entitled "Origines del Teatro Español". In his work, Moratín shows originality, he skilfully describes the manners of his time and is clever in his dialogue. He adheres to the French unities, but introduces certain peculiarities of the Spanish stage, dividing his plays into three acts and using the short romance verse. He was unquestionably the best dramatic writer Spain had produced since the famous ones of the Siglo de oro. The "Biblioteca de Autores Españoles", Vol. II, contains the plays of both the elder and the younger Moratín.
TICKNOR, History of Spanish literature (Boston, 1866); FITZ-MAURICE-KELLY, A History of Spanish Literature (New York, 1906); FEDERICO, Historia de la literatura y del arte dramatico en Espana, tr. from German of MEIER (Madrid, 1885-87).