After Mexican Independence (1821), Mexico increased its cultural autonomy and the nature of its cultural heterogeneity. Mexico had long before then possessed a rich “creole” literature—in the best sense of the word, in Gayatri C. Spivak’s sense—in large part due to its large number of vibrant indigenous groups and its position as a major geographical and cultural contact zone, to invoke Mary Louise Pratt’s salient term. Most discussions that strive to give a full sense of the diverse cultural importations from Europe that contributed to Mexico’s unique creole culture, understandably, center on Spain and, perhaps less understandably, often present Spain as a cultural monolith. Yet, more than being Janus-faced—that is bi-directional towards itself and Spain—the community of writers that have defined themselves and continue to be defined as Mexican writers are Hydra-headed, as are their constitutive elements, including Spanish culture.
Through a focused case study, this essay provides a sense of some of the ways that Mexican readers and writers inherited and transformed the second of the two foremost European cultures that integrated into early American culture, including colonial Mexican culture: English culture, through contact with both Spanish and English texts. The focus is on two key instances of the presence of the English writer and politician John Milton (1608-74) in one site, Puebla de Zaragoza, in central southeastern Mexico. The Milton holdings in the first public library in the Americas, the Biblioteca Palafoxiana (est. 1646), and the play El Paraíso perdido: Drama en 4 actos arreglado por Ambrosio Nieto, sobre la inspiración del inmortal Milton [Paradise Lost: Drama in 4 Acts Arranged by Ambrosio Nieto, Upon the Inspiration of the Immortal Milton] (c.1900) by Poblano Ambrosio Nieto (1875-1950) provide insights into the literary practices that operated in Mexico during that period and the creation of world literature. Puebla is the site selected given its important cultural and economic position in Mexico during the time period and the specific English author given the findings there as well as his strong association with poetry, the focus of The Battersea Review, rather than drama or novels—although the doyens of those genres from early modern Europe, Shakespeare and Cervantes, do make useful cameo appearances herein.
Studies and anthologies of Mexican literature have been in the vanguard of Latin American studies of the past three decades in recognizing the multimedia, pluralistic, translinguistic, and transcultural nature of nationally, regionally, and linguistically clustered literatures. All forms of Mexican literature record their geographical space and cultural encounters especially with Europe beginning in 1492, then with the predominant Anglophone culture to its north and Hispanophone culture within its shifting borders and to its south. Mexican writers and scholars of Mexican literature regularly discuss and convey the emancipating “border thinking” that Walter Mignolo’s Local Histories/Global Designs (2000) so eloquently defines and unpacks. Salutary work in Latin American studies has been done to respect the varied nature meant by the term “indigenous.” In Mexico alone, indigenous groups can be defined by at the least fourteen major languages and up to sixty or 143 languages, depending on the definition of language. Less work has been done in Latin American studies to cultivate an appreciation of the varied nature of “Spanish,” represented often by both its detractors and fans as possessing a distinctly isolated culture among European cultures. The Spanish language and literature that arrived in the Mexico with the first contacts by Spaniards Juan de Grijalva during his exploratory voyage from Cuba in 1518 and by Hernán Cortés in 1519 were by no means monolithic, contrary to some popular and even scholarly assumptions that subordinate or erase Hispanic, and consequently Latino, historiographies from “Western Civilization.” Most germane to this study, Spanish literary culture involved even one of its greatest antagonists of the early modern period, England.
The imbrication of Spanish literary culture with English and, more broadly, European literary cultures can be demonstrated, in brief yet also in some depth, with the Milton holdings of the Biblioteca Palafoxiana in Puebla. The Americas’ first public library, the Biblioteca was founded in 1646 through the donation of 5,000 books from the private collection of its namesake Juan Palafox y Mendoza, bishop of Puebla from 1640 to 1655 and viceroy of New Spain. As Angela M.H. Schuster records, within two centuries, “the library’s holdings had swelled to more than 41,000 volumes,” or nearly all its estimated holdings in 2003. The bulk of those volumes came after the governmental Reform of President Benito Juarez (1854-76) through donations by religious colleges of Puebla as a result of their severely reduced government funding and the Reform’s secularizing requirements in education.
The cataloguing and holdings of the Biblioteca have undergone more than their fair share of challenges that render them unreliable indicators of historical data such as dates of acquisition, use, and the like. It has been a public circulating library during most of its existence; it has undergone material stress due to weather, insect infestations, and earthquakes, most recently one in 1999 that resulted in its closing until 2003; and it has also weathered political upheavals and experienced difficulties with securing funding for cataloguers, conservation specialists, and regular librarians, even after its reopening in 2003. Nonetheless, approached with appropriate caution, the Biblioteca’s catalogue and holdings provide some clues about Mexican, predominantly Poblano, reading habits.
The works of all three of the trio of the most famous early modern European writers—Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), and John Milton (1608-74)—reside in the Biblioteca Palafoxiana. Milton’s six works there exceed the four of Cervantes and one by Shakespeare. The Milton holdings with the earliest publication dates in this signal Mexican library are the famous French imitation of Milton’s Areopagitica (1644), Sur la liberté de la presse: imité de l’anglois, de Milton [On the Liberty of the Press: An Imitation of the English, by Milton] (1789) by Mirabeau, and two French translations of Paradise Lost (orig. 1667), from the complete works of Jacques Delille (1805) and of Louis Racine (1808). The next three works by Milton that appear in the Biblioteca date from after Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla’s Grito of September 16, 1810: the 1814 Spanish verse translation of Paradise Lost, published in Spain, by the Spanish politician Benito Ramón de Hermida; the English The Poetical Works of John Milton (1827); and the French translation of the epic by Chateaubriand (1841).
The four French translations of Milton’s works that appear in this American library accord with the Francophilia of Europe and North America. French writers and translators promoted Milton’s works, especially his epic, as world literature. These Francophone volumes enabled the colonial Mexicans who read them to participate in the creation of Milton as part of world literature due to their wide circulation in many countries and through their commentaries and other paratextual material. These holdings confirm the assessment by Latin American historian Edwin Williamson, that “the Indies’ […] ideological separation from Spain” was “gradual” until “the 1770s,” after which “France increasingly became the beacon of civilization, since the Enlightenment in the Iberian world was but an extension of French ideas.” Notable, uneven shifts in the relationship of Mexican culture to both Spanish and French cultures occurred in the nineteenth century with Emperor Napoleon naming his brother Joseph as King of Spain (r. 1808-13) and imprisoning the Bourbon King Ferdinand VII of Spain (r. 1808, 1813-33) until 1813, then with the short-lived reign of the Viennese-born Hapsburg Maximilian I (r. 1864-7) as emperor of the Second Mexican Empire. All the while, these French Miltons remained on the shelves of the Biblioteca Palafoxiana.
What of the French characterization of Milton in general and in these works in particular? French Miltonist Christophe Tournu has shown that these and other French writers viewed, represented, and in part reinvented the English Puritan Milton as a revolutionary champion starting in the years leading to the French Revolution (1789-99). Delille’s Paradis perdu, for example, figures a revolutionary Milton in its preface even as it conservatively eliminates passages from Milton’s original that disparage Catholic doctrines and institutions. Similarly, Racine’s French translation of Paradise Lost, on the one hand, praises Milton’s ground-breaking poetics, which conveys, “in the clearest and sublimest manner, the order of God’s designs, from the moment he permits the fall of man to the last day of the world.” On the other, it asserts that the Anglo-Protestant Milton “as a theologian deserves so little attention.” Milton’s complex representation dovetails with the late nineteenth-century ethos of Mexican revolutionaries, including Poblanos, who staged some of the most numerous and well-known strikes and demonstrations to achieve liberal social policies yet sought to conserve the institutions of the Catholic Church and the Spanish monarchy.
The Spanish and English Miltons in the Biblioteca constitute similarly complex counterparts to the French Miltons. Hermida’s El Paraíso perdido (1813) was published just over a year after the first full Spanish translation of Paradise Lost by cleric Juan de Escóiquiz, who was part of the inner circle of Spanish King Ferdinand VII. In contrast, Hermida was a statesman who sided, reluctantly but firmly, against El Deseado [The Desired One (Ferdinand VII’s nickname)]. Escóiquiz’s El Paraíso perdido would go on to become the standard edition through today, whereas Hermida’s is all but lost to obscurity. The presence of this rare Spanish translation in the Biblioteca is emblematic of the complex political culture of the Mexican crossroad that was Puebla in Mexico’s colonial and early independence period. Correlatively, the Anglophone The Poetical Works that resides in the Biblioteca is representative of Mexico’s complex commercial culture. The Biblioteca’s edition of The Poetical Works is the one published in Leipzig, Germany, rather than the one published simultaneously in London. Whether it arrived directly from Germany, via the two most likely stopovers of the U.S. or England, or elsewhere, this volume evinces the international nature of Milton’s works as world literature, even if just commercially.
Whatever this volume’s route to Puebla, The Poetical Works, like the French translations, promotes a specific version of Milton’s works as world literature. This volume promotes Milton’s poetry as worth at least as much attention as Milton’s substantial political prose works, if not more, by the sheer existence of the anthology; and of his epic over his other shorter poetic works, by the organization within the anthology. The Poetical Works organizes Milton’s complete poetry not in chronological order of publication or composition but rather with Paradise Lost first. This is the version that would ultimately predominate in Europe and the Americas by the mid-nineteenth century over the previous reputation of Milton as writer of heretical prose, of a Milton that was “of the devil’s party” but not interestingly so.
This representation is only strengthened in this public library by its two holdings not by but rather about Milton. The Biblioteca holds volumes 6 and 7 of The British Classics, which contain the essays from Joseph Addison and Richard Steele’sThe Spectator, including the ones on Milton, primarily Paradise Lost, that circulated so widely in the original English and as translated paratexts of translations of Paradise Lost into numerous languages. The Biblioteca also holds three copies of the Spanish translation Lecciones sobre la retórica y bellas letras (1798, 1800-, 1804), by the respected member of the Real Academia de España [Royal Academy of Spain] José Luis Munárriz, of the English Lectures on Rhetoric and the Belles Lettres (1783) by Scotland’s Hugh Blair. The work praises at length Milton’s sublimity, particularly in Paradise Lost. Of course, Milton’s other works, biography, and legend were transmitted through passing mention in other works of literary criticism, history, and the like, such as one of the Biblioteca’s decidedly transnational holdings, the Spanish translation of the French translation of the English original, Memorias históricas y críticas acerca de los mas célebres ingleses que actualmente viven [Historical Memories and Criticisms about the Most Celebrated English Persons Living Today] (1807-), volume 2. In the work, the same Blair who authored Lectures is described as “parecido á Milton en que como él gusta de novelas: Don Quixote, los Cuentos árabes y Mil y una noche hacen sus delicias” [similar to Milton in how he enjoys novels: Don Quixote, the Arabian Tales and A Thousand and One Nights are his delights]. In the same work’s section on Sir Joseph Bank, Milton’s “plan de una academia” [plan of an academy]—presumably his Of Education (1644), which goes unnamed—is characterized as a model for the Royal Society of London.
The holdings by and about Cervantes and Shakespeare in the Biblioteca Palafoxiana can be brought in to deepen our appreciation of both the representative and the distinctive features of the Milton holdings in the Biblioteca by and about Milton, and of the wily nature of texts, especially imported texts, in Mexican libraries. The holdings by and about Cervantes and Shakespeare corroborate the multilingualism and internationalism displayed in the Milton holdings. They do so, however, in complementary rather than overlapping ways. Among the four copies of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (orig. 1605) is that of 1833 published in Mexico. This Don Quixote is an important demonstration of Mexico’s commercial and, by extension, cultural independence from Europe. Latin American specialists are familiar with the fact that the press established in Mexico City in 1539 was the first Latin American press. Established through the collaboration of the Iberian-Spanish Archbishop Juan de Zumárraga and the Sevilian merchant Juan Cromberger, this press extended the power of the Catholic Church and of Spanish commercial interests. Further, many major European works continued to be imported rather than printed in Mexico. The 1833 Don Quixote is the earliest edition of that work published in Mexico; and the work’s publisher, Mariano Arévalo, was a decidedly Mexican businessman. We possess plentiful evidence that Cervantes’s titular figure circulated rather extensively and exerted significant influence in Mexico well before then. Evidence includes the long comic work that requires familiarity and engages directly with Cervantes’s novel, Historia fabulosa del distinguido caballero Don Pelayo infanzon de la Vega, Quixote de la Cantabria [Fabulous History of the Distinguished Gentleman Don Pelayo, a Barely-nobleman of Vega, Quixote of Cantabria] (1792-3) by Spaniard Alonso Bernardo Ribero y Larrea, a work held by the Biblioteca Palafoxiana; another is Nuevo encuentro del valiente Manchego Don Quixote con su escudero Sancho en las riveras de México [New Encounter by the Valiant Manchegan Don Quixote and his Squire Sancho in the Rivers of Mexico] (1811) by Mexico’s Ignacio Carrillo e Pérez, worth mentioning since the work is a political satire, as is “El sueño de Don Quijote” [Don Quixote’s Dream] by Poblano Ambrosio Nieto, to whom we soon turn.
Before doing so, we turn first to a German-Spanish work of literary criticism on Don Quixote of 1826 and a German one on Shakespeare from 1894 that reside in the Biblioteca: Johann Heinrich von Emmert’s Las donquixotadas mas extrañas. Oder die abenteverlichsten ritterhaten des sinnreichen edlen Don Quixote von la Mancha [The Most Extraordinary Donquixoticisms. Or the Most Adventurous Knightly Deeds of the Ingenious, Noble Don Quixote of La Mancha] (1826) and Edwin Bormann’s Das Shakespeare—Geheimniss [The Shakespeare Mystery] (1894). The German works may reflect the idiosyncratic nature of a unique reader or small group of German readers who travelled to Puebla, the impact of German Romanticism that shifted the cultural powerhouse and language base away from France in the nineteenth century, or various degrees of both. Whatever the case, the presence of these two German holdings and absence of French translations or works of literary criticism related to Cervantes and Shakespeare highlight, then, the distinctively French and English inflection of the Milton reception that this library might foster in its users.
In the previous section, I argued that the presence and some of the nature of Milton in Puebla, and by extension Mexico, can be gathered from the presence of his works in a culturally significant library and, more generally, that the works of the three most well-known early modern European writers evidence the multilingual and international nature of the Spanish and European cultures that has so highly intermixed with Mexican culture. But what of signs of Miltonic influence rather than only presence in Puebla? Arenas beyond libraries that indicate literary influence are schools and popular culture. Presence in those arenas can tell us more than can that in libraries about the influence and reception of specific authors. Getting a hold of curriculums, playbills, and other ephemera, especially from centuries past, is difficult; hence, the value of a published version of the prose play designed for juvenile audiences, El Paraíso perdido: Drama en 4 Actos arreglado por Ambrosio Nieto, sobre la inspiración del inmortal Milton [Paradise Lost: Drama in 4 Acts Arranged by Ambrosio Nieto, Upon the Inspiration of the Immortal Milton] (c.1900) by Poblano Ambrosio Nieto (1875-1950).
El Paraíso perdido at once demonstrates Nieto’s familiarity with Milton’s original and corroborates his nickname of “‘Amigo de el [sic] libro bueno’, debido a que, consecuente con sus creencias eminentemente católicas, no permite la venta ni la difusión de los libros inmorales o dudosos” [“Friend of the good book”, owing to which, as a consequence of his eminently Catholic beliefs, he permits neither the sale nor the diffusion of immoral or suspect books] from his printing press and bookstore, and in his original works. Given his strong Catholicism, we might be tempted to interpret Nieto’s exclusion in his play of the epic poem’s three specifically anti-Catholic passages—the Paradise of Fools passage, the passage on angelic digestion with its provocative use of “transubstantiate,” and the proximal “Pontifical” and “pontifice” upon Satan’s return from Earth to Hell (PL 3.474-97; 5.538;10.312-3, 10.348)—as denominational censorship. But the title’s praise of “the Immortal Milton” combines with the fact that we possess no evidence for Nieto’s intent to prompt us to consider other equally viable factors. For example, oral readings of Milton’s 10,565-line epic take about twelve hours. So, Paradise Lost would certainly have to be cut for any staged drama of manageable delivery for audiences of any confession and certainly for youth. What we can say with confidence is that Nieto’s play exhibits an accessible, generalized Christian ethos.
A number of elements indicate the text’s aim of accessibility; in practical terms alone, cost, flexible stage directions, and genre. The publishing house of Casa Nieto [Nieto House] seems to have aimed at ensuring that cost would not impede audiences from getting their hand on its “good books.” The advertisement pages in the front and back of the publication list “Serie A” [Series A] costing “35 Ctvs.” [35 cents]; the next series 30 cents; series C 15; D 10; E, constituted mostly of novenas, 5; X 15; and Z 5. It is likely that El Paraíso perdido is from Series X, comprised of “Pastorales y Comedias para niños” [Self-tutorials and Plays for children]. The second of the three advertisement pages, instructs perusers “Pida precios al por mayor” [Ask about wholesale prices] and concludes with “La Casa que Venda más Barato | Provad una vez” [The House that Sells the Cheapest | Try it once]. On the back cover, directly above the publisher’s name “Ambrosio Nieto” is “Ved ud. sus articulos y compare precios” [Look at your items and compare prices].
The stage directions are also inviting: they provide helpful and flexible directions for the publication’s users. For the four characters that first appear in Act 2, the stage directions suggest “Avaricia y Lujuria, de preferencia, jóvenes delgados, y Gula y Pereza, de preferencia, jóvenes gruesos. Pueden ser hombres o mujeres y sus vestidos al buen criterio del Director de escena” [Greed and Lust, preferably, slim youth, and Gluttony and Sloth, preferably, thick youth. They can be male or female and their costumes per the good judgement of the Director]. While providing direction about how the actors’ physical features can express their characters’ stereotypical behaviors, Nieto allows for the casting to be responsive to whomever is willing and available.
The genre of El Paraíso perdido as a drama intended for staged production is also attractive and of great significance in its original context. “Between 1895 and 1910, the literacy rates increased from 14 per cent to 19.7 per cent of the total population” of Mexico—the percentage was most likely slightly higher in Puebla, based on its higher than average student enrolment figures from national data for the same period. Thus, public ceremonies, oral readings, and staged performances were important forms of transmission of literary and cultural literacy. Further, Puebla had a particularly strong theatrical tradition. Carlos de Ovando reports the existence of informal playhouses in Puebla “where comedies were staged” in the sixteenth century and “a respectable ‘corral de comedias’,” El Teatro Principal, completed “in 1759,” thus making it the “oldest theatre in Mexico and perhaps in all America.” The importance of public performances in Puebla only increased after May 1862, when President Benito Juárez immediately declared May 5 as a national holiday in honor of the Mexican victory over French forces in the Battle of Puebla the same year and attended a play in El Teatro during his visit to the honored city.
Nieto’s play reduces the complexity of Milton’s epic poem for the demands of the stage and thus increases its accessibility. The “Reparto” [Cast] of El Paraíso perdido lists ten roles, in contrast to the twenty characters with dialogue in Milton’s epic. “Miguel,” “Adan,” “Eva,” and “Satan,” appear in Milton’s original, but the remaining characters, six of the seven deadly sins—“Ira” [Ire, Wrath], “Envidia” [Envy], “Avaricia” [Avarice, Greed], “Lujuria” [Lust], Gula” [Gluttony], and “Pereza” [Sloth]—do not. Satan occupies the role of the chief deadly sin of Pride missing from the cast, as is made clear in Satan’s second speech, in which he refers to “mi soberbia, propia de mí, que soy otro dios” [pride, appropriate to me, since I am another god]. The alliance is reinforced by Satan’s exiting speech of Act 1 when he refers to himself, “Yo, el prototipo de la Soberbia” [I, the prototype of Pride].
In El Paraíso perdido, Nieto may have been responsive to an audience accustomed to the long dialogue for which Spanish Golden Age playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca is so well known. Nieto almost entirely evacuates the action: rather than being represented on a costly epic scale, it is transmitted through explanatory dialogue. In Act 1, Satan laments his and the fallen angels’ recent fall to Hell and informs Ira and Envidia of his plans to seduce God’s recent creation of humankind. Act 2, also set in Hell, races past Milton’s Books 2 to 8, and thus past the original’s accounts of Satan’s voyage to the created universe, the council in Heaven, Raphael’s warning to humankind followed by his account of the War in Heaven and the Creation, and Adam’s account of his creation. Instead, Satan recounts the human Fall to the six sin characters. Audiences would be able to gather from Act 2 some of the original’s highlights from Book 9: general plot elements, such as Satan’s possession of the serpent and Adam and Eve’s separation scene, and even details such as the “roses” amid which the disguised Satan finds Eve alone (PL 9.426).
Acts 3 and 4 are set in the post-Fall garden of Eden, clearly demarcating the hellish scenery and characters from the earthly and angelic ones. Indeed, Nieto provides stage directions that also serve to highlight the contrast between the first two acts and the last two. Act 1 begins with Satan “Arrojando la espada” [Hurling a sword]; Act 3 with “Miguel con una espada en la mano” [Michael with a sword in hand]. Act 3 provides a summary version of the bickering, topics of argument, and reconciliation of Adam and Eve from Milton’s Book 10 and even ends with the couple “Hincados” [Kneeling], the same image of Adam and Eve “confess[ing]” and begging “pardon” (PL 10.1100, 1101) with which Milton concludes the epic poem’s Book 10. Nieto bypasses the potential for diminishing religious respect for God by eliminating any physical representation of God the Father and God the Son. Instead, Michael begins Act 4 summarizing in thirteen short prose lines (72 words) the judgements of “El Hijo del Eterno” [The Son of the Eternal] on the serpent, Adam, and Eve that Milton had represented at much greater length in Paradise Lost (10.103-228). The reference to God the Son at the very beginning of the Act is given a balanced counterpart at the very end, which takes audiences up through Milton’s Book 12.371 with Jesus’ birth, rather than the very end to 12.649, with its summary of the period from the First to the Second Coming, Michael’s didactic parting words, and Adam and Eve’s reunion and departure from Eden. Nieto’s Michael concludes, “Alegraos, pues y ved allí el Salvador del mundo. (Se descubre el nacimiento.) El verdadero Mecías que habre las puertas de ‘EL PARAISO PERDIDO’ FIN” [Be glad, then, and look there at the Savior of the world. (A nativity is revealed.) The true Messiah who opens the doors of “THE PARADISE LOST” END]. One can imagine that ending working nicely with any number of public performances in Puebla that corresponded with the themes of the Catholic liturgical year.
The many details in Nieto’s play from Milton’s original, such as Michael’s sword and Satan finding Eve among the Edenic roses, provide audiences with an introduction to Paradise Lost on par with the many juvenile editions of the works of Shakespeare or, more relevant to this discussion, of Milton, such as Eliza Weaver Bradburn’s The Story of Paradise Lost, for Children (1828) and Jude Daly and Nancy Willard’s The Tale of Paradise Lost: Based on the Poem by John Milton (2004). But, because of Nieto’s familiarity with the original and admirable use of stagecraft, it is attractive to a broader (adult) audience. For example, many segments of Nieto’s El Paraíso perdido echo Milton’s original. The rhetorical question of Nieto’s Satan to open the play, “¿Es ésta la región, este el clima que hemos cambiado por la excelsa cumbre del cielo?” [Is this the region, this the soil, the clime that we have changed for the sublime high of heaven?], is based on Satan’s third speech from Book 1 of Paradise Lost: “Is this the region, this the soil, the clime, / […] this the seat / That we must change for Heav’n, this mournful gloom / For that celestial light? (PL 1.242-5). Nieto’s reduction of Milton’s five references to Hell (region, soil, clime, seat, gloom) can be accounted for readily as due to the preferred concision for the stage and for juvenile audiences. This and other near-translations of Milton’s original in El Paraíso perdido appear to be Nieto’s own, since they do not correspond to the Spanish versions of Milton’s epic available at the time or to the French editions in the Biblioteca Palafoxiana. Nieto taught English and French at the Normal School in his hometown of Puebla, so there is every reason to believe that his immediate source was the English original, perhaps that of The Poetical Works in the Biblioteca.
Notably, Nieto’s stagecraft compensates in some measure for his verbal reductions. Nieto preserves Satan’s famous assurance to his fellow fallen angels, “Here we may reign secure, and in my choice / To reign is worth ambition though in Hell: / Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n” (PL 1.261-3). The succinct blasphemy at the end of this passage is silently omitted from, for example, Escóiquiz’s (adult) Spanish translation of the epic. While Nieto retains it for his juvenile audience, his rendition is certainly less poetic than Milton’s, as are those in other (adult) Spanish translations that do maintain the passage: “Guarde su cielo, pues, nuestro enemigo, que a su corte servil, preferimos reinar en este abismo a cuya sombra la dulce libertad conservamos” [Hold secure your Heaven, then, our enemy, since we prefer to your servile court to reign in this abyss, in which shadow we conserve sweet liberty]. The placement of this line within the first few minutes of the play leaves little time for audiences to adjust to the insulting direct address to God as enemy. Thus, the force of the speech is impressively retained.
I return in brief to just two elements in El Paraíso perdido already mentioned in order to consider the specifically Mexican texture of this transcultural text: the presence of the seven deadly sins in Acts 1 and 2, and the confession and repentance at the end of Act 3. The seven deadly sins are by no means the sole provenance of Catholicism. Certainly Protestant and secular cultures use them. One thinks readily of the parade of the seven deadly sins in Act 2 of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus (A-text 1604; B-text 1616). Nonetheless, in late nineteenth-century Mexico, the seven deadly sins would have resonated strongly with Nieto and his intended audiences. The question and answer portion of the Catecismo de la Doctrina Cristiana traducido de una edición especial norteamericano [Catechism of the Christian Doctrine Translated into a Special North-American Edition] (1897) includes the question “¿Cuáles son los siete pecados capitales?” [What are the seven capital sins?], followed by the correct response and further exposition. Nieto’s press published the widely-used Catecismo breve: Extracto del Ripalda. Lo que se ha de saber para la primera confesión y comunión [Brief Catechism: An Extract from (the Catechism) of Ripalda. What Is to Be Known for the First Confession and Communion] (1926) by Gerónimo Ripalda in Spanish and the same catechism in Náhuatl, Catecismo de la Doctrina Cristiana traducido al idioma mexicano por Miguel Trinidad Palma [Catechism of the Christian Doctrine Translated into the Mexican Idiom by Michael Trinidad Palma] (1940). The play reflects the same sharp antagonism between humankind and the seven deadly sins that these Mexican catechisms characterize. In Act 1, Satan and Ire refer to humankind as “vil materia” [vile material]. Act 2 opens with Ire stating “¡Tiemblo de coraje ante ese par de imbéciles!” [I tremble with anger before that pair of imbeciles!], Adam and Eve, who fell in so easily to Satan’s temptation. The second half of the play reinforces audiences’ negative responses to the personified sins through the display of the sad effects of the “vicios” [vices] on Adam and Eve in Act 3 and through the narration of their large-scale effects on humankind with Michael’s brief history in Act 4. As the play nears its culmination, the stage directions cue the actor playing the role of Adam to exhibit the appropriate emotional response to Michael’s description of the biblically-resonant “valle de lágrimas” [valley of tears] (Psalms 84.6) that humankind will pass through: “Adán llora” [Adam cries]. Nieto’s play accurately represents a Miltonic Adam, who at various stages of Michael’s revelation “wept,” “gave him up to tears / A space,” and “was all in tears” out of sadness (PL 11.496, 11.497-8, 11.674). The drama leaves little room to generate audiences’ attraction towards sins and vices, the kind of attraction that Milton’s epic has generated in some readers, including some of the British Romantics.
Nieto’s Adam and Eve kneeling in confession would also have been strongly resonant with an audience accustomed to the posture in public religious practices and instructed in the act of confession as a sacrament. Adam and Eve take on the posture of kneeling per the stage directions at the end of Act 3. They retain the posture per the stage directions for the opening of Act 4: “Adán y Eva estarán como quedaron al terminar el Tercer Acto.—Al levantarse el telón, aparecerá Miguel con una espada en la mano” [Adam and Eve will remain as they were at the end of Act 3.—Upon the raising of the curtain, Michael will appear with a sword in hand]. The spectacular image would have been intellectually and perhaps spiritually moving for the original audience given that the first of the two sentences in the prayer of confession invokes the archangel Michael: “Yo pecador, me confieso á Dios Todopoderoso, á la Bienaventurada siempre Virgen María, al Bienaventurado San Miguel Arcángel, al Bienaventurado San Juan Bautista, á los Santos Apóstoles San Pedro y San Pablo, á todos los Santos, y á vos, Padre, que pequé gravemente con el pensamiento, palabra y obra, por mi culpa, por mi culpa, por mi gravísima culpa” [I sinner, I confess to God Almighty, to the Blessed ever-Virgin Mary, to the Blessed Saint Michael Archangel, to the Blessed Saint John the Baptist, to the Blessed Apostles Saint Peter and Saint Paul, to all the Saints, and to you, Father (the priest), that I sinned gravely with my thought, word, and works, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault]. Nieto’s Adam retains the posture for some time while Nieto’s Eve falls to sleep, in accordance with the supine posture of Milton’s Eve for most of Books 11 and 12 (PL 11.368-9, 12.607-8): “Queda Adán como en éxtasis y Eva caé como vencida por un sueño” [Adam stays as in a state of ecstasy and Eve falls as if overcome by sleep]. Given the flexibility of the stage directions previously mentioned and the usual liberties taken during staging, Adam and Eve could change postures during Michael’s account of the highlights of biblical history through the First Coming. The “good judgement of the Director” might lead the actor playing Adam to retain the posture to the very end for dramatic effect. Indeed, the end of the penultimate paragraph of Michael’s closing speech lends itself to the flexible inclusion of non-speaking actors in the same posture: “Providencia dispuso […] que los reyes de distintas partes del mundo guiados por una estrella viniesen a tributar su vasallaje” [Providence disposed (…) that the kings of distinct parts of the world guided by a star come to pay tribute to their vassalage]. The kings’ “vassalage” can be represented on stage through the kneeling posture typical of one or all of the kings in nativity scenes and long endorsed by the Catholic Church to express piety.
Nieto provides an abridged, accessible El Paraíso perdido that possesses elements that interact with the specifically Mexican-Catholic texts and practices familiar to its intended original audience. Some of his many other writings combine with textual clues from the play to indicate that El Paraíso perdido constitutes not a substitute but rather an invitation for audiences to engage however possible with the original works of “the Immortal Milton.” For example, in the short story, “El sueño de Don Quijote” [Don Quixote’s Dream] (c. 1940), Nieto represents Milton’s Paradise Lost as a cultural element with which his audiences are or should be familiar. He makes passing reference to Milton’s paradise as he transitions readers into the protagonist’s dream scene: “se quedó dormido, sintiéndose transportado a una región, que le pareció el Paraíso que describe Milton” [he remained asleep, feeling himself transported to a region that appeared like the Paradise that Milton describes]. “The Paradise that Milton describes” is certainly more detailed than the one described in the brief stage directions of Nieto’s El Paraíso perdido or the Bible’s Genesis. Further, Nieto’s invocation of Milton’s English work interacts with his direct use of the name, if not the character, Don Quixote and his imitation of the satirical tone of Cervantes’s Spanish work to alert readers to the serious nature of the short story as social satire and perhaps to the universal nature of the human folly his story represents in a specific time, after the first “guerra mundial” [world war], and specific Mexican place setting, where one might hear the braying of a “burro.”
The large, primary question that has governed this case study is, how did some of the primary works of major European cultures besides and within Spain’s circulate in Mexico? This brief, site-specific study of the works of one major author of England, Milton, corroborates the ready, general hypothesis that European works circulated in Mexico as did most foreign works in most countries: first as imported texts in elite, personal libraries that either remained so or became collections in public libraries, then as products of domestic presses commissioned for schools and individuals or targeted towards bookstores and libraries. A less expected answer is that Milton’s works circulated not only in Spanish translation and in English as might be anticipated but also in French translation and through Mexican adaptation by the early twentieth century. We gather details about the distinctive nature of the presence of various European writers from looking at the Biblioteca Palafoxiana, given that Milton’s works travelled in good European company, with those of his near-contemporaries Cervantes and Shakespeare, as well as others not treated in this focused study. And we learn from the transcultural literary works of one Mexican author, El Paraíso perdido and “El sueño de Don Quijote,” that, at least in this case, library presence accurately indicates local influence. Finally, I take away a heightened sense of poetry as an “enabling resource,” to use Seamus Heaney’s phrase, for readers, writers, and scholars of all kinds and in all parts of the world; and of world literature as a reciprocal process, since I have learned from this exploration more about Milton’s works from Mexican literary culture and vice versa.
ANGELICA DURAN is Professor of English, Comparative Literature, and Religious Studies at Purdue University, Treasurer of the Milton Society of America (2012-21), and an Executive Committee member of the Poetry & Poetics division of the Modern Language Association (2016-21).