Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos

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Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes - Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos.jpg
Jovellanos painted by Goya
Born (1744-01-05)5 January 1744
Gijón, Asturias, Spain
Died 27 November 1811(1811-11-27) (aged 67)
Occupation Author, Philosopher

Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (born Gaspar Melchor de Xove y Llanos, 5 January 1744 – 27 November 1811) was a Spanish neoclassical statesman, author, philosopher and a major figure of the Age of Enlightenment in Spain.

Life and Influence of his Works

Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos was born at Gijón in Asturias, Spain. Selecting law as his profession, he studied at Oviedo, Ávila, and the University of Alcalá, before becoming a criminal judge at Seville in 1767.

His integrity and ability were rewarded in 1778 by a judgeship in Madrid, and in 1780 by appointment to the council of military orders. In the capital Jovellanos took a good place in the literary and scientific societies; he was commissioned by the Society of Friends of the Country (Madrid's economic society) in 1787 to write his most well-known and influential work, Informe en el expediente de ley agraria ("A report on the dossier of the Agrarian Law"), a project which he completed in 1794, and published in 1795.

In his work on agrarian law, he called on the crown to eliminate the concentration of land ownership in the entailment of landed estates, ownership of land by the Catholic Church, and the existence of common lands unavailable to private ownership. In his view, Spain's wealth lay in its agricultural productivity which would allow its population to grow and prosper. In the eighteenth-century regime of land tenure, productivity was stifled by latifundia of the political elites and the Catholic Church as an institution, and common lands where there was no incentive for individuals to invest in its productivity. Jovellanos was influenced by Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations (1776), which saw self-interest as the motivating force for economic activity.[1] Jovellanos's recommendations were not implemented in Spain, but did influence thinking about agrarian land reform in the viceroyalty of New Spain by Bishop Manuel Abad y Queipo in the early nineteenth century before its independence in 1821, whose writings influenced Alexander von Humboldt's thinking and writing on land issues in Mexico.[2] Jovellanos also influenced thinking about agrarian land reform in Mexico in the late period of President Porfirio Díaz's regime by Andrés Molina Enríquez, who was the intellectual father of the article of the post Mexican Revolution Constitution of 1917 that empowered the State to expropriate land and other resources.[3]

Involved in the disgrace of his friend, Francisco de Cabarrús, Jovellanos spent the years 1790 to 1797 in a sort of banishment at Gijón, engaged in literary work and in founding the Asturian institution for agricultural, industrial, social and educational reform throughout his native province. This institution continued his darling project up to the latest hours of his life.

He was summoned again to public life in 1797, when Melchor de Jovellanos refused the post of ambassador to Russia, but accepted that of minister of grace and justice, under "the prince of the peace", whose attention had been directed to him by Cabarrus, then a favorite of Godoy. Displeased with Godoy's policy and conduct, Melchor de Jovellanos combined with his colleague Saavedra to procure his dismissal. Godoy returned to power in 1798 and Jovellanos was again sent away to Gijón.

Together with his Asturian intellectual colleagues, such as González Posada, Caveda y Solares and his sister Xosefa Xovellanos, Melchor de Jovellanos focused then on the study of Asturias. He intended to start several projects in the study of his native Asturian language, including an Asturian Academy of the Good Letters and an Asturian dictionary, but in 1801 he was thrown into prison in Bellver Castle (Majorca) and was forced to put all his cultural projects on hold.

The Peninsular War, and the advance of the French into Spain, set him once more at liberty. Joseph Bonaparte, having gained the Spanish throne, made Jovellanos the most brilliant offers, but the latter sternly refused them all and joined the patriotic party. He became a member of the Supreme Central Junta and contributed to reorganize the Cortes Generales. This accomplished, the Junta at once fell under suspicion, and Jovellanos was involved in its fall. To expose the conduct of the Cortes, and to defend the Junta and himself were the last labors of his pen. In 1811 he was enthusiastically welcomed to Gijon; but the approach of the French drove him forth again. The vessel in which he sailed was compelled by stress of weather to put in at Vega de Navia (now known as Puerto de Vega) in Asturias, and there he died on November 27, 1811.

Pedro de Silva, the second President of the Principality of Asturias, is a direct descendent of Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos through his mother, María Jesús Cienfuegos-Jovellanos Vigil-Escalera.[4]


Jovellanos's prose works, especially those on political and legislative economy, constitute his real claim to literary fame. In them, depth of thought and clear-sighted sagacity are couched in a certain Ciceronian elegance and classical purity of style. Besides the Ley agraria, he wrote Elogios, and a most interesting set of diaries or travel journals (1790–1801, first published in 1915) reflecting his trips across Northern Spain. He also published several other political and social essays.

His poetical works comprises a tragedy, Pelayo, the comedy El delincuente honrado, satires, and miscellaneous pieces, including a translation of the first book of Paradise Lost.


  1. D.A. Brading, The First America, Cambridge University Press 1991, pp. 510-511
  2. Brading, The First America, p. 565.
  3. Stanley F. Shadle, Andrés Molina Enríquez: Land Reformer of the Mexican Revolutionary Era. Tucson: University of Arizona Press 1994, pp. 23-25.
  4. "Fallece a los 85 años la madre de Pedro de Silva". La Voz de Asturias. 2004-08-10. Retrieved 2011-01-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. Missing or empty |title= (help)CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Further reading

  • Polt, John Herman Richard. Gaspar Melchor De Jovellanos. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1971.