Donoso Cortes, JUAN FRANCISCO MARIA DE LA SALUDAD, Marquess of Valdegamas, author and diplomat, b. May 6, 1809, at Valle de la Serena in the province of Estremadura, Spain; d. May 3, 1853, at Paris. His father, Pedro Donoso Cortes, was a descendant of Hernando Cortes, the conquistador. At the age of eleven, Donoso Cortes had finished his humanities, and at twelve had begun the study of law at the University of Salamanca; at sixteen he received his degree of licentiate from the University of Seville, and at eighteen became professor of literature at the College of Caceres. Carried away by the rationalism prevalent in Spain following upon the French invasions, he ardently embraced the principles of Liberalism and fell under the influence of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, whom he later characterized as “the most eloquent of sophists”. In 1830 he went to Madrid and, with his characteristic energy, engaged in the political controversies of the day, espousing the cause of the reigning dynasty. A memoir addressed to Ferdinand VII on the situation of the Spanish monarchy, advocating the abolishment of the Salic Law, attracted wide attention and procured for him an official position under the Minister of Justice. But the revolutionary events of 1834 led him to reconsider the ground of his political liberalism, and drew a second brochure from his pen scathingly criticizing the revolutionary movement. On the death of Ferdinand, he remained a faithful adherent of the queen-mother Maria Cristina and of her infant daughter Isabella, whose title was disputed by Don Carlos in virtue of the Salic Law against the succession in the female line to the Spanish throne. In 1836, under the ministry of Mendizabal, he became secretary of the Council. In this same year he gave a brilliant course of lectures on political rights at the Atheneum of Madrid. In 1837 he was elected deputy to the Cortes from Cadiz. In 1840, following upon the revolution headed by Espartero, Duke of Victoria, he followed the exiled queen Maria Cristina to Paris in the post of private secretary. He accompanied her on her return after the overthrow of Espartero, 1843, and was appointed to the office of secretary and director of the studies of the young queen, Isabella, was created Marquess of Valdegamas, and entered the Senate. For his eloquent advocacy of the “Spanish marriages” (the simultaneous alliance of Isabella with Francesco of Assisi and of her sister with the Duke of Montpensier) he was made an officer of the Legion of Honor by Louis Philippe.
The death of a dearly beloved brother at this time made a profound impression upon Donoso Cortes. The mystery of human destiny assumed for him a new aspect, and from this time he became an ardent champion of the Catholic Church. On the 4th of January,
1849, he pronounced a remarkable discourse in the Cortes in which he publicly repudiated his Liberalistic principles, branding them as “sterile and disastrous ideas in which are comprehended all the errors of the past three centuries, intended to disturb and disrupt human society”. In 1849 he represented Spain as minister plenipotentiary at the court of Berlin, and afterwards at Paris (1850-53), where he died.
The complete works of Donoso Cortes, with a biographical sketch by Gabino Tejado, were published in 1854-55 (Madrid). A translation into French of his principal works, with an introduction by Louis Veuillot, was published at Paris (1858-59). His most notable work is his “Ensayo sobre El Catolicismo, El Liberalismo y El Socialismo” (English translation, Philadelphia, 1862; Dublin,). This work was written at the instance of Louis Veuillot, who was an intimate friend of the author, and places Donoso Cortes in the first rank of Catholic publicists. It is an exposition of the impotence of all human systems of philosophy to solve the problem of human destiny and of the absolute dependence of humanity upon the Catholic Church for its social and political salvation. Upon its publication the work was acrimoniously attacked by the Abbe Gaudel, Vicar-General of Orleans, in a series of articles in the “Ami de la Religion“, and as vigorously defended by Louis Veuillot in “L’Univers’. Donoso Cortes at once submitted his work to the Holy See, which refused to interdict it or any of the propositions declared heretical by the Abbe Gaudel. It remains today one of the most brilliant and profound expositions of the influence of Catholic truth upon human society from the pen of a publicist. In a notable series of letters, from 1849-53, to Count Raczyski, at that time Prussian ambassador at Madrid, Donoso Cortes gives a penetrating analysis of the social, political, and religious conditions of Europe, and with almost prophetic insight predicts the unification of Germany in a great empire under the Prussian monarchy as well as the political decadence of France and the latter’s loss of Alsace and Lorraine.
CONDE B. PALLEN