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Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos
(Also written JOVE-LLANOS).
Spanish statesman and man of letters, b. at Gijon, Asturias, 5 Jan., 1744, d. at Puerto de Vega on the borders of Asturias, 27 Nov., 1811. Intended at first for the Church, he received his preliminary training at the University of Oviedo, whence he passed to the University of Avila and later to that of Alcalá. In the latter institution he spent two years, continuing his study of canon law. His uncle, the Duke of Losada, did not look with favor on the idea the young man devoting himself to an ecclesiastical career, and advised him to direct his course towards the practice of law as a layman. This he did, after having already received the tonsure, and ere long he was made a judge in the criminal court of Seville, from which post he rose to higher places on the bench. While at Seville, he interested himself in the development of the mechanical, agricultural, and general economic arts, and made earnest endeavors to improve the lot of the laboring man. At the same time he commenced his literary career writing documents embodying his views as to social improvements as well as some occasional lyric verse, his tragedy "Pelayo", and his comedy "El delincuente honrado". With the exception of the "El sí de las niñas" of Moratin, the last-named work was the best play that had appeared in Spanish for many years. Written in prose, it represents the introduction into Spain of that form of the sentimental drama, or melodrama, which had been developed in French, as the drame larmoyant or drame bourgeois, by Diderot and La Chaussée. The "Pelayo" is a less meritorious work. In 1778 King Carlos III transferred him to the courts in the capital. Verse written at this moment shows the regret which he felt at having to leave Seville for Madrid. Once in the metropolis, he was promptly enrolled in the learned societies, among which were the Academia de la Historia, and the Academia Española, and his association with these led to the production by him of various scientific and literary compositions. Carlos III died in 1788. A month before that event, Jovellanos had written his "Elogio de Carlos III", in which he did justice to that enlightened monarch's attempts to make the nation prosperous through the adoption of progressive methods.
Like the king, Jovellanos had been deeply interested in the encouraging and bettering of agricultural pursuits, and in his "Informe sobre la ley agraria" set forth the evils that confronted the willing husbandman and the necessary reforms. He had formed a friendship with the statesman Cabarrús, and, when in 1790 the latter incurred disfavor, he was compelled to leave Madrid also. Going into virtual exile, he visited his own Asturian region with the ostensible mission of a commissioner to examine the coal-mining facilities of the district. Remaining several years at home, he there founded the "Real Instituto Asturiano", which still exists. Then, to his great surprise, he was appointed minister of justice, and proceeded to Madrid to take up his portfolio under Godoy. He held it during a good part of 1797-9, but with the fall of Godoy he lost his office and had to return to Gijon. There he was arrested in 1801 and carried off to Majorca where he was kept a prisoner until 1808, in which year he was released by order of Prince Ferdinand. Coming to the mainland, he was notified that Joseph Bonaparte had named him minister of the interior. He refused, accepting instead a place on the national Junta Central, as the representative of Asturias. After directing for a while the operations of the Junta, he was obliged to flee before the advance of the French, and embarked at Cadiz on board of a vessel for his native province. He encountered many vicissitudes, and died of pneumonia at one of his landing-places, Puerto de Vega.
Obras publicadas e ineditas in the Biblioteca de autores espanoles, XLVI, L; MOREL-FATIO, La satire de Jovellanos contre la mauvaise education de la noblesse (Bordeaux, 1899): MERIMEE, Jovellanos in the Revue hispanique (1894); SOMAZA DE MONTSORIU, Inventario de un Jovellanista (Madrid, 1901).