Englishmen, Frenchmen, Spaniards

Every so often, I read of some long-dead and forgotten author who has been re-discovered. I’m not sure why some writers survive in the culture and others do not; it is not simply a question of the quality of their prose or poetry.


Some months ago, my mind turned to Salvador de Madariaga, whose treatise “Englishmen, Frenchmen, Spaniards” I read either at school or university. Thanks to the Internet, I was able to locate a copy. Madariaga wrote the book in 1928, when he was Professor of Spanish Literature at Oxford University.

In a discussion of national character, the author distinguishes “a complex psychological entity” in the case of three countries –  England (“fair play”) France (“le droit”) and Spain (“el honor”). In modern, unified Europe, these characteristics  may not be as clearly defined as they were, but as underlying cultural traits I think they still obtain.

Madariaga first points out (quite correctly) that the three terms are untranslatable. He then goes on to explain how fair play equals action, le droit equals intellect and el honor equals passion. The psychological center of gravity of the English people is in the body-will; of the French people, in the intellect; and of the Spanish people, in the soul. Therefore, their natural reactions towards life are action, thought and passion, respectively.

To be continued…

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