José Joaquín de Mora and Britain: Cultural Transfers and Transformations

by Sara Medina Calzada (Author)
©2022 Monographs 262 Pages
Series: Anglo-Iberian Studies, Volume 2


This book explores the connections that José Joaquín de Mora (1783–1864)
established with Britain, where he was exiled from 1823 to 1826 and was to
return as diplomat in the following decades. His admiration for the British
materialised in a series of cultural transfers aimed at the promotion and diffusion
of British culture in Spain and Spanish America. He contributed to the
popularization of Bentham’s utilitarianism, the principles of British classical
economy, and the philosophy of the Scottish School of Common Sense; he
translated texts by Scott and Shakespeare and wrote an unfinished version
of Byron’s Don Juan; and, above all, he presented Britain as a model for the
political, economic, and literary regeneration of the Hispanic world.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the book
  • About the author
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Acknowledgements
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1 A Model to Emulate: Encoding Britain for a Hispanophone Readership
  • 1.1. Britain as the Paradigm of Freedom
  • 1.2. British Social Mores and National Character
  • 1.3. London and British Lifestyle
  • 1.4. Britain as the Laboratory of Political Economy
  • 1.5. Gaps and Silences
  • 1.6. Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter 2 Education and Useful Knowledge: Popularising British Thought
  • 2.1. The Monitorial System and the Secular Catechism
  • 2.2. The Spread of Benthamism
  • 2.3. The Dissemination of British Classical Economy
  • 2.4. The Diffusion of the Scottish Philosophy of Common Sense
  • 2.5. Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter 3 Literary Transformations: Spreading British Literature in the Hispanic World
  • 3.1. A Complex Evolution
  • 3.2. Byron and the Quest for Poetic Renewal
  • 3.3. The Diffusion of Scott’s Historical Fiction
  • 3.4. Shakespearean Echoes in Mora’s Works
  • 3.5. Concluding Remarks
  • Chapter 4 Anglo-Hispanic Literature: Transnational Adaptation under Ackermann’s Imprint
  • 4.1. Literary Annuals for the New World
  • 4.2. Translation Practices in No me olvides
  • 4.3. Creating from English Materials
  • 4.4. Transmedia and Transnational Adaptation in Meditaciones poéticas
  • 4.5. Concluding Remarks
  • Conclusion
  • Appendices
  • Appendix 1 Works of José Joaquín de Mora
  • Appendix 2 A Chronology of the Correspondence between Mora and Bentham
  • Appendix 3 Mora’s Entries in Enciclopedia moderna (1851–1855)
  • Appendix 4 Translated and Adapted Texts in Mora’s No me olvides (1824–1827)
  • Bibliography
  • Primary Sources: José Joaquín de Mora
  • Other Primary Sources
  • Secondary Sources
  • Index
  • Series Index

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Writer, translator, educator, and diplomat, José Joaquín de Mora (1783–1864) is an intriguingly complex and fascinating figure in the history of the Hispanic world in the first half of the nineteenth century. He witnessed and participated in the momentous political, economic, and cultural changes that occurred in Spain and Spanish America during his lifetime: the emancipation of the Spanish American colonies, the crisis and eventual collapse of the Old Regime, the rise and feeble consolidation of political liberalism, the attempts to promote industrialisation and free trade, and the transition from Neoclassicism to Romanticism. It was a time of crisis and transformation in which Mora, like other members of the Spanish-speaking educated elites, understood that the Hispanic world had been submerged in a long period of decline and, consequently, a thorough regeneration was required. His reform proposals for the improvement of the Hispanophone nations on both sides of the Atlantic reveal a fervent admiration for Britain, the country where he was exiled from 1823 to 1826 and where some years later he returned as a diplomat (1838–1843, 1850–1851, 1853–1854, and 1856–1858). His Anglophilia is the object of study of this book, which explores the works and activities by which he contributed to the promotion and diffusion of British culture in Spain and Spanish America.

Mora led a long and eventful life marked by displacement. The son of a lawyer and the grandson of a school teacher, he was born in Cádiz on 10 January 1783. Little is known about his childhood, but he was educated in the ideals of the Enlightenment, as reflected in his faith in reason, rational understanding of religion, and emphasis on the Neoclassical notion of taste. In the late eighteenth century, Cádiz was a flourishing port city where foreign languages were taught and spoken, so Mora may have learned English before moving to Granada to study law.1 By 1806, he had completed his degree and had obtained the chair of logic at the Colegio de San Miguel (University of Granada). His apparently quiet life, however, was completely disrupted with the outbreak of the Peninsular War (1808–1814). He voluntarily enlisted in the patriotic army and presumably fought at the battle of Bailén (1808), but he was captured by the French near Ciudad Real in March 1809 and taken to Autun, where he remained as a prisoner ←9 | 10→of war until 1814.2 His activities during this five-year captivity remain unclear; we know that he read Shakespeare, incurred a substantial gambling debt, and married Françoise “Fanny” Delauneux (1791–1887).3 Amunátegui suggests that Mora’s French years may have included a visit to England, but this possibility seems extremely unlikely.4

Mora returned to Spain in 1814. Soon after his arrival, he took part in the querella calderoniana (1814–1820), a literary dispute in which he opposed Johann Nikolaus Böhl von Faber’s defence of Calderón’s drama and the principles of Romanticism. In the late 1810s, he also wrote for the theatre and edited Crónica Científica y Literaria (1817–1820), the first of a long series of periodical publications of which he was editor or contributor until the end of his life.5 Nevertheless, writing was not his only occupation at the time as he also led two secret diplomatic missions in Italy and France in 1819 and 1820, respectively. Little is known about these diplomatic activities, but they suggest that he was well connected at the Spanish court.6 This collaboration with the absolutist regime ←10 | 11→of Ferdinand VII seems in contradiction with his commitment to liberalism, which he made public when the Constitution of 1812 was restored in 1820. In this brief period of constitutional government, commonly known as Trienio Li- beral (1820–1823), Mora actively participated in the ongoing political debates through his newspaper articles and involvement in the patriotic society Amigos de la Constitución, also known as Cruz de Malta because that was the name of the café where their meetings took place.7 This is also the time in which he was in correspondence with Jeremy Bentham and published Consejos que dirige a las Cortes y al pueblo español Jeremías Bentham (1820), a translation of Bentham’s “Letter to the Spanish Nation on a Then Proposed House of Lords.”

The restoration of absolutism in 1823 forced Mora and his family to leave Spain in the spring of that year. Like other liberals, they found refuge in London, where they were to stay until late 1826. Mora’s three-year exile was a period of fruitful and intense intellectual activity. He became one of the most prolific collaborators of Rudolph Ackermann, a German London-based publisher who started to produce books in Spanish in the 1820s to distribute them in the recently independent Spanish American republics. The impressive list of titles that Mora produced under Ackermann’s editorship between 1824 and 1827 includes poetry, periodical publications, conduct books for women, teaching manuals, history books, translations of Scott’s novels, a literary annual, and illustrated travel books.

Mora left London in December 1826 and travelled to Buenos Aires after having accepted the proposal of Bernardino Rivadavia, the President of the United Provinces of Río de la Plata, to work with him in the establishment of a liberal regime. During his ten-month residence in Buenos Aires, Mora edited the periodicals Crónica Política y Literaria de Buenos Aires and El Conciliador, while his wife opened a school for girls. Once Rivadavia was overthrown, Mora and his family left Buenos Aires and moved to Chile, where he received the support of the Chilean President Francisco Antonio Pinto to publish the periodical El Mercurio Chileno and found the school Liceo de Chile. Furthermore, he was one of the authors of the second Chilean Constitution (1828). His fortunes, however, changed when Pinto resigned in 1829. After then, the new conservative government led by José Tomás Ovalle was particularly hostile to Mora, who was eventually arrested and expelled from Chile in 1831.

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Mora’s next destination was Lima (Peru), where he again worked as teacher. He supported the government of the conservative leader Agustín Gamarra, but since Gamarra was not re-elected in 1833, Mora was again placed in a delicate situation. In 1834, he was invited to La Paz (Bolivia) by Andrés de Santa Cruz, the President of Bolivia (1829–1839) and Supreme Protector of the Peru-Bolivian Confederation (1836–1839), with the purpose of undertaking several educational projects, including an offer to occupy the chair of literature at the University of San Andrés. Mora accepted Santa Cruz’s proposal and arrived in La Paz in October 1834. The Spanish author, who was a fervent and loyal admirer of Santa Cruz, started to work in close collaboration with him in the writing of letters and official documents and worked as his secretary until 1838, when he was commissioned to travel to London to act as his agent in Britain. During this second residence in London, he published his literary masterpiece, Leyendas españolas (1840).

Mora returned to Spain in 1843. One year later, he was appointed headmaster of the Colegio de San Felipe Neri, a school in Cádiz that had been previously directed by Alberto Lista and Antonio Alcalá Galiano. Being a respected figure close to the liberal bourgeois elites of the reign of Isabella II, he became a member of the Real Academia Española in 1848 and was appointed vice-president of the Consejo Provincial de Madrid (1847–1851), Royal Counsellor for Agriculture, Industry and Commerce (1847–1864), and Spanish consul in London (1850–1851, 1853–1854, 1856–1858). During his consulship, he became involved in some activities of the British and Foreign Bible Society and the Spanish Evangelisation Society, which suggests that he probably converted to Protestantism, although he never made it public.8

This last phase of Mora’s trajectory was still a period of intense intellectual activity. In those years, he published treatises on the benefits of free trade (De la libertad del comercio, 1843; Memoria sobre puertos francos, 1844), a rewriting of Lord Byron’s Don Juan (Don Juan, 1844), and a book of Spanish synonyms (Colección de sinónimos de la lengua castellana, 1855). He translated Cecilia Böhl von Faber’s famous novel La gaviota from French in 1849 and published Poesías (1853), a collected edition of his poems that considerably expands his ←12 | 13→Poesías of 1836. Furthermore, he was a regular contributor to different periodical publications, such as Revista Hispano-Americana (1848), Revista Española de Ambos Mundos (1853–1854), and La América: Crónica Hispano-Americana (1859–1864).

Any study on Mora has to face several difficulties. First, as opposed to other contemporaries, Mora never published an autobiography and his personal papers have not been preserved, so scholars have to rely on scarce and scattered archive materials and, of course, on the vast number of works he produced throughout his lifetime. Such a sizeable corpus, which comprehends original and translated texts belonging to diverse genres written over a span of fifty years (1814–1864) and published in several different countries, means another challenge to anyone interested in studying his figure. In addition, these texts are not always easy to access, and most of them have never been reedited. Modern editions of his works only include those of Leyendas españolas (2011) by Salvador García Castañeda and Alberto Romero Ferrer, El Mercurio Chileno (2009) by Gabriel Cid, and De la libertad del comercio (1999) by Pedro Schwartz.9 Many other texts have been digitised since the early 2000s, but there are still some books of which only a few copies are preserved in different and distant libraries and institutions. This is the case of Mora’s literary annual No me olvides (1824–1827) and the magazines Correo Literario y Político de Londres (1826) and Crónica Política y Literaria de Buenos Aires (1827), for instance. Regarding periodical publications, another difficulty arises: the articles were hardly ever signed, so Mora may have authored texts that have not been identified. Moreover, even if Mora was the editor of several periodicals and wrote many of the pieces, not all the articles can be assuredly attributed to him.10 To make matters worse, many of those articles were ←13 | 14→translated or based on French sources, so it is not always easy to determine his views on a given matter.

The difficulties in accessing and interpreting these primary sources may be one of the reasons why Mora has been a relatively neglected figure, even if over the last fifteen years the wider reassessment of the Spanish liberal exile of 1823–1833 has fuelled a renewed interest in him.11 Such interest is proved by the publication of the above-mentioned edition of Leyendas españolas, the collection of essays José Joaquín de Mora o la inconstancia. Periodismo, política y literatura (2018), also edited by García Castañeda and Romero Ferrer, and a fair number of articles on different aspects of his life and works.12 Since Mora was such a prolific and multifaceted author, it is not surprising that critics and scholars have analysed his activities and ideas from different perspectives and disciplines, including history, literary criticism, journalism, political theory, education, and the history of economic thought.

Amunátegui’s Don José Joaquín de Mora. Apuntes biográficos (1888) is still the only book-length biography of Mora, but although it has furnished scholars with abundant information and primary documents, it lacks rigour and abounds in errors. Its limitations were highlighted by Trease, whose doctoral dissertation is a diachronic study of Mora’s life and works during his exile years in England and Spanish America, but the most relevant study on Mora’s figure is Monguió’s Don José Joaquín de Mora y el Perú del ochocientos (1967).13 Monguió not only documents Mora’s residence in Peru and Bolivia ←14 | 15→(1831–1838) and his later diplomatic activities at the service of Santa Cruz, but also provides accurate information on his trajectory before and after his exile, offering a remarkably insightful analysis of Mora’s thought and major literary works.

Other scholars have focused on a specific phase, work, or facet of Mora’s career. Regarding the period prior to his exile, they have mostly dealt with his participation in the querella calderoniana, first reconstructed by Pitollet and then explored by Carnero and Tully, among others.14 Scholarly attention has also converged on his exile in London. The numerous works he wrote, edited, and translated at that time are examined by Llorens in his celebrated book Liberales y románticos: una emigración española en Inglaterra (18231834) (1954), where he discusses Mora’s fruitful collaboration with Ackermann and the articles that he published in European Review. Llorens’s seminal work has been complemented by Roldán Vera’s comprehensive analysis of Ackermann’s Spanish editorial venture in The British Book Trade and Spanish American Independence: Education and Knowledge Transmission in Transcontinental Perspective (2003) and a number of studies on Mora’s exile writings.15 These include Muñoz Sempere’s analysis of Mora’s costumbrista articles in European Review, Rodríguez Gutiérrez’s article on Cuadros de la historia de los árabes (1826), and Weisinger’s and Almeida and Medina Calzada’s examinations of Meditaciones poéticas (1826).16 Furthermore, Tully has explored Mora’s ←15 | 16→collaboration with Ackermann in its transnational context, Asensio Manrique and Gaviño Rodríguez have investigated Mora’s efforts for the spread of useful knowledge, and Macintyre has examined his conduct book for women, Cartas sobre la educación del bello sexo (1824).17 Moreover, Durán López has extensively analysed Mora’s translation activities for Ackermann’s publishing house, a topic also explored by Rodríguez Espinosa in his studies of Mora’s translations of Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and The Talisman.18

Scholars have also investigated Mora’s exile years in Spanish America (1827–1838), especially in relation to his residence in Chile (1828–1831). Historians have explored his teaching activities at Liceo de Chile, his rivalry ←16 | 17→with Andrés Bello, and his involvement in the writing of the Chilean Constitution of 1828 and the creation of a Chilean national identity.19 Moreover, Iglesias Rogers has examined Mora’s role as a political consultant in Chile and his promotion of the values of the European Enlightenment in Spanish America.20 Such promotion is also reflected in the periodical publications he edited with Pedro de Angelis in Buenos Aires, which have been analysed by Baltar.21

As for Mora’s literary works, Leyendas españolas (1840) is the one that has aroused more interest among scholars. The studies by Amores García, Bolaños Donoso, García Castañeda, Liso, and Romero Ferrer mostly focus on the image of Spain that Mora provides in those legends, although they also explore them in connection with his ideas on literature and point out the influence of Byron’s satiric style.22 In like manner, Mora displayed his talent ←17 | 18→for satire in Don Juan (1844), a rewriting of Byron’s homonymous poem that has been examined by Medina Calzada.23 More generally, Perojo Arronte has also explored the role that British literature played in the evolution of his critical thought.24

Finally, although scholars have paid more attention to Mora’s activities and works during his exile years in Britain and Spanish America, they have not completely disregarded the last phase of his career. While Smith, Siegrist de Gentile, Schwartz, and Astigarraga and Zabalza have explored his defence of free trade and economic liberalism,25 Rubio Cremades and González Pizarro have analysed his contribution to the periodicals Revista Española de Ambos Mundos (1853–1854) and La América. Crónica Hispano-Americana (1859–1864).26 González Pizarro has also studied Mora’s diplomatic communications ←18 | 19→as the Spanish consul in London in the 1850s.27 As indicated above, in those years, he may have converted to Protestantism, a hypothesis supported by Zazo Esteban in his study of Mora’s ideas on death.28

Mora’s admiration for Britain is a commonplace remark in the existing literature on his life and works, which generally assumes that his exile in London (1823–1826) was a turning point in the evolution of his thought and the origin of his Anglophilia. However, the nature, development, results, and impact of such fascination for Britain have not been examined thoroughly. Scholars have referred to individual works or aspects connected with his knowledge of British authors or the influence that they exerted upon his works, but they have not fully explored his role as a commentator and disseminator of British culture considering the multiple facets of his extraordinary career. This is precisely the purpose of this monograph, which is a substantially revised version of my doctoral dissertation “Britain and the Regeneration of the Hispanic World: A Study of José Joaquín de Mora’s Anglophilia” (2017).29 This book explores how Mora’s contacts with Britain materialised in a series of cultural transfers by which he selected certain elements of British culture—texts, sets of ideas, or worldviews—and transposed them into the Hispanic world via translation, adaptation, imitation, and appropriation.

The concept of cultural transfer, developed by Espagne and Werner since the 1980s, has been widely used in comparative literature and history in an attempt to overcome the limitations of influence or reception—two terms that, nonetheless, are sometimes used in this book even if my analysis is not articulated through them.30 Cultural transfers involve the “transport of cultural materials from one domain to another”31 and, therefore, they imply the ←19 | 20→existence of source and target poles and apply not only to texts but also to practices, ideas, and attitudes.32 Mora was the agent of these cultural transfers as he selected and transformed elements from British culture to introduce them in Spain and Spanish America. He did so with a purpose because, like any cultural mediator, he pursued particular aims that went beyond a disinterested desire to expand the knowledge of a given author or trend. As Bourdieu remarks, when analysing the international circulation of ideas, it is necessary to unravel the interests that lead someone to operate as the discoverer and disseminator of a foreign cultural product and the benefits this person may obtain from such activities.33 Even if, given the educational nature of many of his publications, Mora behaved like an intellectual missionary with apparently altruistic motivations for the promotion of education in the Hispanic world, he also assumed the role of cultural mediator with the intention of consolidating his own position as writer and reformer. In addition, he did not always act on his own accord as sometimes he simply accommodated his views and decisions to his circumstances and responded to other people’s demands, as he did especially in the works that he wrote and translated for Ackermann.

The cultural transfers promoted by Mora inevitably entailed transformations. As Espagne expounds, any cultural transfer requires the passage from one code to another.34 In a way, it is a form of translation and, in fact, translation acts as an important transfer route,35 but Mora’s diffusion of British culture is not limited to the translation of a set of texts. Mora also processed British cultural products so that they would conform to the traditions, circumstances, and expectations of his Spanish-speaking target audience as well as to his own concerns and reformist agenda. Through his promotion and dissemination of British models, he aimed to foster political, socio-economic, and cultural transformations in Spain and Spanish America, arguing that Hispanophone countries should emulate Britain to overcome their backwardness and complete their regeneration. The concept of regeneration is frequently ←20 | 21→associated with the late-nineteenth-century Spanish intellectual movement known as regeneracionismo, also concerned about the decadence of Spain. However, the term regeneration, which was widely used during the French Revolution, had already permeated Spanish political discourse in the first decades of the nineteenth century and was appropriated by revolutionaries, liberals, and conservatives alike.36 For Mora, regeneration implied the gradual but profound transformation of the Hispanophone world through a series of reforms that included the establishment of political and economic liberalism, the improvement of social mores, the spread of education, and a renewal of literary models.

The study of Mora’s involvement in these transfers and transformations is structured in four chapters. Chapter 1 explores Mora’s views on Britain and the British. His periodical publications, teaching manuals, and literary works portray Britain as the paradigm of freedom and a model of political stability, good morals, economic development, and cultural splendour, which is implicitly and often explicitly contrasted with the decadence of the Hispanic world. Britain becomes an idealised other that, in Mora’s view, the Hispanophone nations on both sides of the Atlantic should emulate in their political, moral, and economic regeneration. Although Mora’s Anglophilia is particularly conspicuous at the time of his London exile and close collaboration with Ackermann, he continued promoting British models at later stages of his career.

Chapter 2 looks at Mora’s indefatigable zeal for the spread of education in the Hispanic world and his contribution to the popularisation of what he regarded as useful knowledge, that is, Bentham’s utilitarianism, the theories of British classical economists, and the philosophy of the Scottish School of Common Sense. Mora, a correspondent of Bentham in the 1820s, promoted some of his ideas on legal and judicial reform and translated “Letter to the Spanish Nation on a Then Proposed House of Lords” (1821), but he eventually distanced from his radicalism and failed to complete most of his projects for the spread of Benthamism. As a defender of economic liberalism and, above all, free trade, Mora also propagated the principles of political economy as expounded by Adam Smith, James Mill, and John Ramsay McCulloch through teaching manuals, periodical publications, and other ←21 | 22→texts on economic issues. Moreover, he contributed to the diffusion of the ideas of Scottish philosophers like Thomas Reid, Dugald Stewart, and George Campbell as part of his project to reform the teaching of philosophy in Spain and Spanish America.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2022 (May)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2022. 262 pp., 3 tables.

Biographical notes

Sara Medina Calzada (Author)

Sara Medina Calzada teaches English language and literature at the University of Valladolid (Spain). Her main research interest is in Anglo-Hispanic historical and cultural relations in the nineteenth century and, more particularly, in the literary activities of the Spanish liberal exiles in London (1823–1833), the reception of British literature in the Hispanic world, and the representations of Spain in Romantic Britain.


Title: José Joaquín de Mora and Britain: Cultural Transfers and Transformations
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