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Quixotes, Don Juans, rogues and arbitristas in seventeenth century Castile

Quichottes, dons juans, picaros et arbitristas dans la Castille du dix-septième siècle
Luis Perdices de Blas et John Reeder
p. 561-591


L’un des grands problèmes de l’histoire économique, politique et sociale de la Castille a été d’expliquer son arriération économique au cours du Moyen Âge. Celle-ci a été mise en évidence en premier par les arbitristas, les économistes de cette période et pionniers dans la recherche de la nature et des causes de la richesse des nations européennes au seizième et dix-septième siècles. Notre article compare d’un côté l’analyse effectuée par les arbitristas des problèmes économiques de la Castille et les solutions qu’ils ont mises en avant et, d’un autre côté, ce qui est représenté par la littérature de l’époque. Dans cette dernière, bien qu’il ne soit pas question des problématiques économiques en tant que telles, les écrivains de cette période révèlent l’ascension d’un nouveau personnage qu’ils ont alors caricaturé, l’arbitrista, et leurs écrits reflètent la manière dont leurs personnages se comportent comme agents économiques. La campagne des arbitristas en faveur du travail y apparaît comme une critique du mode de vie des trois personnages immortalisés par ces écrivains : le gentilhomme oisif de province à la manière de Don Quichotte ; le séducteur raffiné à la manière de Don Juan ; et les picaros, misérables et futés, qui gaspillent leur capacité productive à des activités de maigre profit qui, dans de nombreux cas, relèvent du comportement criminel.

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1One of the great questions of the economic, political and social history of Castile has been to find an explanation for its economic backwardness during the Modern Age, as revealed by arbitristas, the political economists of the Spain of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They were the first to wonder why it was that a few provinces in the north of the empire, present-day Holland, with no large army, hardly any natural resources and a small population were becoming the miracle growth area of seventeenth century Europe, while, conversely, Castile, the heart of the empire, with a large army, colonies, stocks of precious metals, natural resources and a population of many talents was lagging behind.

2Many renowned historians, as well as economists specializing in economic growth theory, have homed in on this paradox, ranging from the Nobel prizewinner for Economics North (North and Thomas, 1978) to Grafe in his revealing new book (2012), and including the American and European Hispanists (Hamilton, Klein, Prescott, Elliot, Kamen, Vilar, Defourneaux, Lynch, Grice-Hutchinson, J.Pérez, Vilar Berrogaín, Le Flem and Trevor Davies, among others), the Spanish experts (Larraz, Sureda, Carande, Dominguez Ortíz, Maravall and Fernández Álvarez, among others) not to mention the many disciples of theirs who in the last thirty years have published monographs shedding fresh light on the matter. Diverse explanations have been put forward, some of them even contradicting each other, on the backwardness rather than the stagnant state of Castile, among others, geography, the transport network, the shortage of physical and human capital, the predatory state, the fragmented market, the idleness of Spaniards and Catholicism. Historians, whether indicating one cause or another for the economic backwardness of Castile, agree in pointing to the fact that a significant number of Castilians had turned away from productive activity and were inclined to live on unearned income, in the case of the most affluent, whilst the poorest lived by begging or through activities which were not included within the framework of agriculture, manufacturing or commerce. An inadequate institutional framework in fact did not encourage Castilians to use their productive talents, as has been pointed out on than one occasion and, more particularly, in the case of the rogues (“pícaros”).

  • 1 These myths compete with other characters, also Spanish, with heterodox occupations, such as La Cel (...)

3This article does not go into the question of the causes of this backwardness, nor does it compare the explanatory theories put forward by contemporaries with those of present-day historians. The aim is to compare the profile of three characters appearing in the literature of the period who have become what we might call “Spanish franchises” or “universal myths”1 and the view of the arbitristas, who were caricatured by literati, such as Cervantes or Quevedo. In other words, our aim is to analyze the lives of gentlemen of leisure from the provinces, such as Don Quixote, aristocratic seducers dwelling in big cities like Don Juan and the rogues who frittered away their productive capacities in activities of little profit, which more often than not, were illegal.

4The arbitrista, as described by Jean Vilar (1973) in his classic, scholarly monograph, was a character dealt with in literature and it was creative writers who coined the pejorative meaning of this word. Quixotes, Don Juans and rogues were criticised in arbitrista writings when they described the varying causes and solutions to Castile´s economic ills. In a certain sense, their writings constituted a crusade in favour of work and against idleness. They agreed with what was pointed out by the arbitrista González de Cellorigo (1991, 79) in 1600: “Castile appeared to be a Republic inhabited by unreal men who [live] outside the natural order of things” and had abandoned economically productive sectors to live on unearned income.

5The article is divided into three sections. In the first a brief review is provided of how literary writers forged a new term and character; the arbitrista, who became internationally famous through the traits Don Quixote took from them in the second part of the magnum opus of Cervantes. Then, there is a description of arbitrista thought which is highly critical of leisure and unproductive activities to which the three literary characters mentioned above dedicated themselves. Following this, profiles are analysed of the Don Quixotes, Don Juans and rogues from an economic viewpoint. This paper deals with three universally recognized literary figures to which is added the figure of the arbitrista which was made famous by Don Quixote. In short, literary writers speak first to set out their opinion of the arbitristas, and then some arbitristas reflect on the complicated socioeconomic situation of their time.

1. The figure of the arbitrista in literary texts

6The seventeenth century in the Spanish empire and in Castile particularly, was highly fruitful in terms of the publication of many books belonging to different genres: novels, short plays, poetry, treatises on moral theology and political science. Added to all of these we would have to include treatises, memoranda, pamphlets and all manner of writing on economic matters. That is, we shall include in our study both the treatises of scholastic writers whether included or not within the scope of the Salamanca School, which was highly influential on a national and European scale (Grice-Hutchinson, 1982 and 1995), together with printed works and manuscripts from arbitristas, which we shall concentrate on in this paper.

7Literary writers and arbitristas were aware of what each other were publishing. Firstly, let us give the former, the arbitristas, permission to speak. They made mention in their publications of the existence of authors devoted to economic affairs and it was they themselves who coined the term “arbitrista” in its pejorative form. We owe to Cuartas Rivero (1981, I-V) the most concise explanation of the origins of the financial term arbitrista in the sixteenth century and its subsequent evolution during the seventeenth century.

This phenomenon of the so-called arbitristas, of people who reflect on and make suggestions about how to increase the amount received by the Exchequer, and who are able to spend years at court, in the hope of receiving some favour and looking forward to seeing how their advice is put into practice. is believed to have increased most rapidly from the year 1600 onwards, and it was in the seventeenth century that they were ridiculed in satirical form by Cervantes, Quevedo and others, who thus revealed how badly these arbitristas were regarded and how much their eagerness to increase royal income worked against those who had to pay taxes.

  • 2 Covarrubias in his Tesoro de la Lengua Castellana, in the word “Alvedrío” gives a totally negative (...)

8Gradually, in the seventeenth century, the rather limited financial definition of the word arbitrista was extended, from referring simply to those who offered suggestions on how to improve the fiscal system it came to include all those presenting solutions, many of which were completely fanciful, to the problems of the Spanish economy, which were, moreover increasingly pressing.2 There was no shortage of analysts who saw how the situation was worsening. Such problems included supposed depopulation, the badly functioning monetary system -in part brought about by the debasement of the coinage-, low yields in agriculture, the uncompetitive nature of the textile industry and an inadequate trade policy, which, according to most authors, ought to make moves towards protectionism and even the prohibition of all imports.

9Seventeenth century literati were the greatest contributors to the demeaning of the word “arbitrista”, as shown in minute detail in the scholarly monograph by Jean Vilar entitled Literatura y Economía. La figura satírica del arbitrista en el Siglo de Oro (1973). Among the names of those who were the most outstanding satirists of the figure of the arbitrista and of those who made a decisive contribution to redefining and discrediting it, that of Cervantes must be included, both in the Coloquio de los perros (1613), and in the second part of Don Quijote de la Mancha (1615)

10In the Coloquio de los perros (The dialogue of dogs) two dogs, Cipión and Berganza, engage in an entertaining conversation in which the latter describes its life, like Lazarillo de Tormes, in terms of the masters he had had. Berganza, after living with many masters (actors, gypsies, Moorish converts and merchants, among others) and travelling through several cities (from Seville to Valladolid, via Granada), fetched up in the Resurreción Hospital in Valladolid. There he bumped into four patients: a poet, an alchemist, a mathematician and an arbitrista. The poet was searching for purity in literary composition, the alchemist seeking to find the philosopher´s stone to change base metals into gold and silver, the mathematician involved in solving the problem of squaring the circle, and, finally, the arbitrista, was obsessed with proposing economic schemes to the monarch. Once the arbitrista has expressed his answer to the problems of Castile, Cervantes puts in the mouth of the dogs the following conclusion:

  • 3 On Cervantes and arbitrismo, see Perdices de Blas and Reeder in Perdices de Blas and Santos Redondo (...)

Everyone laughed at his proposal and at him, and even he laughed at his own silly ideas; and I was left astonished at these ideas and at the character of those who had come to die in these workhouses (Cervantes, 2001, 620-621).3

  • 4 Quevedo in El Buscón (published in 1626, but written long before), also refers to arbitristas, see (...)

11Attacks on the figure of the arbitrista by literary writers reached their zenith with Quevedo in the second part of his Política de Dios y Gobierno de Cristo, written in 1635, in which arbitristas were likened to Judas.4 Quevedo´s text which deals with arbitristas and which fully coincides with Cervantes is La hora de todos y la Fortuna con Seso (posthumously published in 1650, and probably written between 1633 and 1635). In this work, as in the Coloquio de los Perros, poets, alchemists and arbitristas are portrayed and ridiculed. In section XVII a reference is made to the latter and he mentions that in the case of all those who had any contact with them, “their wealth was eroded, their lands suffered drought, their money was no longer of value and their business deals came to nought” (Quevedo, 1987, 200), and he mentions several examples of recommendations (“arbitrios”) in which deceits characteristic of such works are set out: “How to obtain vast wealth in one day, by taking from others all they have, and enriching them by taking it”, “An easy, pleasurable and justified arbitrio, to obtain millions, in which those who must pay do not have to suffer, but, instead, understand that they are being given something”, or “Offering to manage what is lacking and change it into something they have an excess of, without adding or taking away anything at all, and nobody complains”. To sum up, “the most pious arbitrista is fire: fire abates with water, but you grow with it, and with all the elements, and against all of them; The Antichrist must be an arbitrista […] Princes may be poor, but when dealing with arbitristas to try and stop being poor, they stop being princes” (Quevedo, 1987, 204). He reveals the swindles of arbitristas: they write in order to solve problems but they aggravate and impoverish most people.

12This negative view of the arbitristas presented by literary writers had such an impact that from the beginning of the seventeenth century, authors writing about politics and economic policy, who claimed to have greater insights into their subject, felt almost obliged to insult arbitristas. Thus, González de Cellorigo (1991, 103-104), in his Memorial of 1600, criticized proyects “which have only served to destroy kings and kingdoms and by curing an ill have opened the door to many others and to all of those that the Republic must put up with. The reason is that what is most destructive of Republics is Princes giving credit to individuals who, ignorant of the laws of good politics, talk them into a whole range of mistakes”.

  • 5 On the rediscovery of arbitrista thought by eighteenth century economists, see chapter 6 of Perdice (...)

13From the second third of the seventeenth century onwards no serious writer on economic matters confessed to being an arbitrista, nor used the term “arbitrio” to describe their works. So effective was the task performed by literary writers of the seventeenth century in reinterpreting the word “arbitrista” that eighteenth century economists rediscovering the indigenous tradition of independent Spanish economic thought of the previous century, Campomanes and Sempere and Guarinos for example, were obliged to clarify the differences between the hardline arbitristas parodied in literature and serious “political economists”.5

14The figure of the arbitrista as such was not as well known internationally as Don Quixote, Don Juan or the rogues, whom we will deal with in the third section. Nonetheless, their character was indirectly projected through Don Quixote. The locus classicus where Cervantes used the metaphor of the arbitrista as a personification of madness comes in the first chapter of the second part of Don Quixote, where its function is to introduce us once more to the persistent obsession of Don Quixote with novels of chivalry and the conduct of the knight errant. In the course of a discussion regarding “reasons of state and types of government”, the priest in order to test whether Don Quixote´s mental health was bad or not, introduces into the conversation the topic of the Turkish menace. Don Quixote swallows the bait and says that he has a “piece of advice” for the king. The barber at once associates Don Quixote´s advice with the “impertinent” pieces of advice, arbitrios, which he dismisses out of hand in similar terms to González de Cellorigo:

  • 6 In chapter 6, in the second part of Don Quixote, Cervantes makes a further reference to the “impert (...)

Experience has shown nearly all the memoranda sent to his Majesty by armchair politicians to be impracticable, or nonsensical or harmful to the king or the kingdom. (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 627).6

15Cervantes, then, with the tale of the madman of Seville, which follows, transfers us once more a scene of real dementia, to the madhouse of Seville, the Hospital de los Inocentes, which reminds us of the one in Valladolid, the meeting place for the four lunatics of the Coloquio de los Perros, and of another arbitrio, that of the arbitrista’s monologue (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 629).

16Even when he considers himself as attacked personally, Don Quixote does not allow himself to be bullied, and attacks once again, with his long list of knights errant and names himself as the most effective tool for defeating the Turks. The chapter ends with an argument between Don Quixote and the priest as to whether these knights errant were “fiction, fables and lies” (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 635).

17Cervantes obviously makes clever use of the jargon, the vocabulary and psychology of arbitristas, proving to be in this chapter of the second part of Don Quixote as in the arbitrista´s monologue in El Coloquio de los Perros both an attentive reader of their arbitrios, as of well as the criticisms of their detractors.

2. The arbitristas´ campaign against idleness, the idle and those unproductively employed

  • 7 A measure of the significance of these arbitristas is the fact that many of them were re-edited ove (...)

18The arbitristas wrote on a variety of economic matters and problems and their ideas concerning the causes of and remedies for the so-called decadence of Castille are of particular significance. They were amongst the first authors on economic matters to carry out detailed studies of economic problems and indeed some of them, offer perceptive analyses of how the economy works. The literati, as we have discussed above, correctly criticised the majority, however, of the arbitristas´ proposals as patently absurd, monocausal, simplistic, self-interested and ill thought out. Nevertheless, the arbitristas we have chosen to illustrate our arguments are precisely those who show an ability to present a more coherent view of the economy of their time, a view which seeks, albeit crudely, to interrelate determinant variables, writers such as Martin González de Cellorigo, Lope de Deza, Sancho de Moncada, Miguel Caxa de Leruela, Francisco Martinez de Mata, or Miguel Alvárez Osorio y Redin.7

19Rather then, than interpreting the arbitrista from a purely political point of view, ie the arbitrista as one who recommends changes in government policy, often, though not always, unrealistic and impractical proposals, as satirised by Spanish 17th century creative writers, we have chosen to see the arbitrista as an economic commentator, an analyst of contemporary economic problems, and a forerunner therefore of the political economists of the 19th century.

20Whilst we are in complete agreement with the view that the arbitristas are not economists in the modern sense of the word, but rather political analysts, we think it might be useful to examine some of their ideas and the overall approach of the more perceptive of them as coming within the purview of the pre-history of economics. After all, their proposals are by and large economic policy recommendations, and the more perspicacious amongst them do seek to analyse real economic problems. Let this then stand as a plea for a plurality of viewpoints as concerning what exactly the arbitristas are and what they are doing.

21We have deliberately excluded from our list the analytically more sophisticated specialist writers amongst the arbitristas, those, for example, on monetary policy, the so-called enfermedad del vellón, such as Tomás de Cardona, Alonso de Carranza, or Gerardo Basso, or on the single tax debate, la contribución única, such as Jacinto Alcázar Arriaza, Bautista Davila, or Francisco Centani, none of whom, significantly perhaps, appear to have interested the Spanish literati of the 17th century.

22The arbitristas tried to attract the attention of monarchs and their politicians to centre their attention on the heart of the Empire, Castile, and stressed three economic consequences of the discovery of the Americas which had had a negative effect on the Castilian economy: rising prices which left Castilian products at a disadvantage in comparison with foreign products, the entry of precious metals which were immediately exported to European financial and manufacturing centres, and the abandoning of productive sectors. They coincide in pointing out that this export was due to the abandoning of productive activities by Castilians, which stemmed from a disdain towards work, since living on unearned income was associated with the nobility. Some arbitristas, therefore, realized that what was important was not the exporting of the metals in themselves but the fact that Castilians abandoned productive activities and, therefore, “firm, stable wealth”, and bought abroad. For them wealth was the fruit of productive activity, not precious metals.

23González de Cellorigo synthesized quite superbly this analysis by the arbitristas:

Because money is not true wealth what is really valuable is more attractive. What is least worthy has been taken from what really is so, as can particularly be shown with evidence to those who claim to have the greatest understanding of reasons of state. They maintain the false premise […] that the abject poverty of these Kingdoms has been caused by taking money from them for war in Flanders and other States belonging to the crown of Castile. These people are mistaken in saying that this is the cause of the harm, which is, namely, the weakness of ourselves and excessive diligence of foreigners, who through their hard work obtain ten times more than all the money spent by the Council of War and State. (González de Cellorigo, 1991, 69-70)

  • 8 Where differences begin to make their appearance is in the importance assigned to each of the produ (...)

24Starting from the advantages of an abundant population and not identifying wealth with precious metals, the arbitristas propose greater dedication to productive activities without rejecting measures of an extra-economic nature (promoting marriage or the simplification of legislation, for example).8 Thus Fernández de Navarrete says (1982, 65):

In France, Italy and the Low Countries there are no gold or silver mines, and the abundant population take to those provinces all the wealth of Spain through commercial contracts and productive skills: these Kingdoms of Spain being the most fertile in Europe, and having control of all the gold and silver of the Indies, nevertheless have a reputation for being barren, through a shortage of men to work, cultivate and exploit their natural products, thus giving them an added value, which is what really enriches the provinces.

25The arbitristas observed the advantages and wealth that foreigners obtained by transforming raw materials, the latter often coming from Spain or her American colonies. In this way the solution is found for the paradox put forward in the introduction that “barren countries” (bereft of natural resources like Holland) but “hardworking”, got richer, whereas Castile, with abundant raw materials and precious metals, but “not very hardworking”, got poorer.

  • 9 They also made an extensive analysis of the following obstacles stemming from legislation : too man (...)

26Having identified the cause of backwardness and set out the main policy measures to reestablish abundance in Spain, the arbitristas analysed the obstacles to economic growth. Among such obstacles they stressed the encouragement of idleness, living off unearned income, the excessive number of non-productive trades, the unnecessary accumulation of people in the Court, and on some occasions luxury.9 That is, they denounced everything practiced in their daily lives by the three literary characters referred to in this paper.

27To sum up: arbitrista thought is a crusade against idleness and in favour of working in any of the productive sectors. González de Cellorigo (1991, 73) states that “It is an attempt to go against the natural order of God and will give rise to many more errors by wishing to obtain benefit from the soil without working. This is not to be obtained without the sweat of our hands”.

28Mateo López Bravo (1977, 264) points out that idleness has its roots in considering work as a dishonourable activity and, on the other hand, thinking leisure to be honourable:

In itself leisure should be avoided as harmful, of course. And you will flee from it if you transform into love the aversion we naturally feel for work. You will achieve this transformation by giving due honour to ploughing, the axe, and mechanical skills and treating idleness with the greatest shame-something I never tire of repeating. Unfortunately, however, this is nothing but an amusing tale since all work, even though it be the handmaiden of virtue, earns no merit or honour in laws and customs, whereas idleness, however besmirched in crime it may be, is put forward for prizes and honours. It is, therefore, in no way unusual for everyone to look kindly upon idleness and for the number of those idle to increase by the day.

29Later he makes a comprehensive classification of people who can be regarded as idle. Such are beggars and, especially, those who are capable of working, nobles fallen on hard times whose “nobility does not allow them to stoop to begging or manual labour” (López Bravo, 1977, 266), those who falsify virtue, the perpetrators of disgraceful actions who are welcomed in the houses of the nobility and servants and nobles in general.

30Arbitristas take special notice of the nobility because they are the ones who have passed on to the rest of society their anti-work values. Most of the population will always ape the “virtues” or “vices” of kings and nobles and thus many poor people prefer to live from begging. They establish a direct relationship between the idleness of the nobility and the rich with entails, censos and juros, the concentration of the population in large cities and, especially, in the Court, and excessive luxury.

31These censos and juros, linked to systems of land entailment based on primogeniture (“mayorazgos”), made living from unearned income rather than work possible. Fernández de Navarrete (1982, 95-96) criticizes the great harm caused by these same censos and juros:

… like those who through their work have acquired some sort of estate, discover that by means of them [government annuities] they can relax and collect the yield, give up arts and trades, farmwork and stock rearing by the sweat of which they earned their keep. This reduces trade, and with it rights of ownership; because the trader leaves his business, the journeyman his shop, the gentleman who works his lands sells them and substitutes them for government annuities, the international trader no longer crosses the oceans, leading to the end of the sale of the natural, industrial products on which the wealth of cities was based.

32Likewise, primogeniture (“mayorazgo”) as an institution is criticised as that which permits living from unearned income. Fernández de Navarrete (1982, 95) again refers to the harmful effects of legally tying land, censos, juros and other forms of income to the entail (“mayorazgo”):

The introduction of entails tied to censos and pensions has also given rise to a life of idleness; because it serves merely to gentrify common and mechanical plebeians: because a merchant, a bureaucrat, a peasant and others can scarcely have had time to set up a five-hundred ducat contract with yields in government bonds before they decide to grant them as income, to their eldest son. This makes him and all his brothers ashamed of working in the humble occupations from which this income derived. So, the eldest son takes the lion´s share, the others are left with the mere presumption of being gentlemen, on the basis of being brothers of the heir. As a result they have no interest in anything but being layabouts, and attending Court, where the slight interest they had shown in manual work finally disappears.

33Obviously, the arbitristas considered that work in farming, stock breeding, manufacturing and commerce is productive and, consequently, propose eliminating idleness, and returning to these types of jobs. There are other jobs which could be classified as non-productive, and in turn, they are divided into useful and useless and not directly contributing to increasing wealth.

34Among these useless non-productive jobs are those of domestic service and artists. There is another group of trades which are useful, but not productive such as that of soldiering. To these trades should be added those which are useful, albeit harmful in excess. Such is the case of public servants, lawyers, and clerks. Also included in this latter group are men of letters and there is criticism of the fact that even families of modest means want some of their children to receive elementary schooling and the problem occurs when these studies come to an end, and these children do not want to return to manual work and take to a life of leisure. Fernández de Navarrete (1982, 360) states bluntly:

This evil is much more profound, because the result is that with the help of public charity, we buy leisure for our students-and with it luxury and ambition-for some youths with no assets of any sort and, consequently destined to be servants and work as artisans. In this way more idleness is piled upon the excess of it which already exists, banishing through a false sense of piety the work we are so much in need of.

35An additional problem was not just the existence of an excessive number of people working in non-productive trades, whether useful or useless, or an army of the false poor who are workshy, but the fact that all these were concentrated at Court. They flocked to the Court to obtain reward and favours from the generosity of the monarch. Moncada comments that the swarming crowd at Court leads to harm, both of a spiritual and material kind. Among the former we find the Court becomes “a sea of vices and the vice-ridden” (Moncada, 1974, 205 and following). More material damage is even greater. The provinces are depopulated and the “Rentas Reales” (tax incomes for the state) decrease, skilled workmen cannot be found in the provinces; it is difficult both to repopulate the cities once people have left and to provision the Court in years of scarcity, with the resulting plunder of the provinces. Similarly, the Court is filled with “idle folk”, most of whom are poor, who constantly pester ministers and advisors for favours (Moncada, 1974, 198-199). The French Hispanist Cavillac sums up the situation in a few words: “the city turns into both the motherland of rogues and the stage for the vanity of the nobility” (in Pérez de Herrera, 1975, CXXXVII), as is seen in the works studied in the third section.

36A problem related to idleness, in a society which deems it more convenient to live on unearned income and which would rather live in big cities, is luxury. Lope de Deza (1991, 47-48) points out that an excess of luxury has brought about not only the appearance of sickly men who are vice-ridden, idle and effeminate, but the proliferation of useless professions to the detriment of agriculture. Fernández de Navarrete adds that luxury is not only the cause of idleness and the abandoning of productive activities but men also consider their “store of wealth” or their “patience” to be not enough to withstand the expenditures that luxurious customs have imposed when one marries. All of this is to the detriment of the holding of weddings and, consequently, leads to a reduction of the population (Fernández de Navarrete, 1982, 307).The autarchic Moncada (1974, 108-110) adds the qualification that this luxury is even more harmful, from the economic viewpoint, when the products consumed are foreign.

37To complete this analysis made by arbitristas that emphasizes the idle life of nobility, whose values are then passed on to the poor, we shall examine certain points of the debate on aid to the poor, which began in the sixteenth century and continued throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In this debate, with very few exceptions, the poor man was deemed to be a rogue, a lazy fellow who would rather do no work and, in fact, a delinquent. Many of these ideas were taken up by the arbitristas.

38Throughout the sixteenth century there was a proliferation of moralizing literature dealing with the so-called problem of the poor. In this century the debate took the form of an argument about how to establish a distinction between the genuine poor (those with physical handicaps, the aged poor, orphans or those unemployed who were genuinely seeking work) and the bogus or false poor, so-called “healthy beggars”. The vast majority of the authors identified the causes of the increase in begging as moral decadence and the ever-increasing tendency towards idleness. Almost all of them denied any possibility of there being involuntary unemployment.

39Secondly, once this distinction had been established, our authors went on to propose various policies for solving the problem, ranging from plans to round up and even imprison the poor/beggars/tramps, to detailed discussions on how reception centres were to be set up, funded, and organized, including policies for encouraging employment or punishing the idle.

40Writers taking part in this debate did not contemplate the possibility that an increase in the number of beggars, particularly in cities, might be due, in fact, among other factors, to a process involving the redistribution of the working population and displacement of the surplus labour force from country to city. Rather they considered that the phenomenon of begging was caused by morally reproachable behavior: the seeking of a life of idleness and vice.

41Luis Vives (2000), in his De subventione pauperum (1526) rejects the orthodox scholastic doctrine that the poor have the right to ask for alms. Starting from the idea subsequently shared by the majority of writers in his century, that there was no shortage of work, just of the willingness to work he suggests establishing a distinction between, the false poor (the idle) and the deserving poor, and proposes that civil authorities should intervene, rather than ecclesiastical ones, as according to traditional medieval thinking. The legitimate poor would be housed in “hospitals”, which would serve as centres for employment training. Vives´ s hospitals would be the proposed model with different variations suggested by almost all the writers on the question of the poor throughout the century. The other writers, in the majority of cases, did not accept this lay, secular solution of hospitals, as proposed by Luis Vives, however. The Casas de misericordia (Houses of Mercy) and the albergues (hostals) of Pérez de Herrera, for example, would be supervised and run by the clergy.

42A succession of failed harvests in the two Castiles and the subsequent subsistence crises were to give rise to the following stage of the polemic, the debate between a professor from the University of Salamanca, the Dominican, Domingo de Soto and the Benedictine abbot Juan de Robles, in 1545.Soto (1965) in his Deliberación en causa de los pobres, adopting an orthodox medieval viewpoint, denies the possibility of distinguishing between real and false poor and defends the right of any poor person to seek alms. How exactly do you distinguish between voluntary and involuntary unemployment? Soto also casts doubt on the capacity of the State or municipal authorities to fund and run efficient reception centres. His opponent, Juan de Robles, presents an analysis and solutions which are clearly based on Vives´s ideas. For Robles, begging is, in particular, a problem not so much of individual rights as of public order. For the Benedictine, beggars and tramps are not just false poor and lazy, but also delinquents. The policy of rounding them up becomes a question pertaining mainly to the civil authorities.

43Only the Franciscan, Gabriel del Toro (in Thesoro de misericordia divina y humana, Treatury of divine and human mercy, 1536,published in six editions in the sixteenth century) and the Catalan Canon Miquel Giginta (in the three editions of his Tratado de remedio de los Pobres, Treatise on a cure for poverty, 1579) relate the increasing number of beggars and tramps to the lack of jobs, that is, with unemployment. Giginta, for example, believes that the deserving poor ask for alms solely because they have no alternative. If they were granted the means of subsistence and work (in “the casas de misericordia”) only the false ones would not volunteer to enter these institutions. In this way Giginta solves two problems at the same time: eliminating the need to illegally curtail individual freedom (Soto´s objection) and enabling the establishment of the necessary distinction between legitimate and false poor, namely, delinquents.

44The approach of Robles (healthy beggars= delinquents) reaches its maximum expression in the works of the Doctor of the King´s Galleys Cristóbal Pérez de Herrera (His Amparo de pobres, Shelter for the poor, was published various editions in 1598, 1608, 1610 and 1617) for whom begging is not caused by unemployment, but, rather the reverse and its increase is the result of a culture of idleness. As was noted in the second section, Alemán, the friend of Pérez de Herrera, illustrates this theory in Guzmán de Alfarache.

45Pérez de Herrera in 1598 came to see beggars, according to his modern publisher, Michel Cavillac (in Pérez Herrera, 1975, CXL), as a “seedbed for Protestant heretics cultivated by Spain´s enemies” and even “there is no shortage among them of spies working for Moors and Turks”. In the opinion of Pérez de Herrera, it is necessary to lock up all beggars regardless in hostels, while letting the genuine poor out to legally seek alms. Once again, he fails to answer De Soto´s question: How do you establish the distinction between voluntary and involuntary unemployment. Still today, incidentally, a difficult problem which perplexes politicians and economists. Rather than Vives-style work training centres, these hostels would be reformatories, “Palaces of Disillusionment” as they were described by the friend of Pérez de Herrera, the Royal quartermaster Alonso de Barros, in a letter which serves as an epilogue to Pérez Herrera´s work ´the Amparo de pobres.

46In this letter from Alonso de Barros it can be seen how there has been in the course of half a century a movement from concern for the welfare of the poor and their individual freedom as expressed by the eminent Renaissance theologian Soto, and shared perhaps by Don Quixote, in favour of categorizing beggars as delinquents. Here we reproduce an extract from the text by Alonso Barros as representative to a certain extent of a fresh attitude towards poverty and the poor, that of the century of the rogue, the seventeenth century:

The zeal of our author, and his intention, is none other than to give shape and form to charity, which was-ill-defined due to the scarce use made of it. To that purpose he roars like the lioness, to persuade the King, our Lord, and his ministers, to open hostels all over the kingdom, where those calling themselves poor can be rounded up by force. This is because, depending upon the strength of their envy, if they are all together some of them will be the controllers of the others, and all of them will be reformed, though following different paths. Thus we will know who are the rich poor, and those who are really poor will become richer. And as if by a miracle they will cure those who appear one-armed, by loosening the bindings on their arms; the lame will walk freely, if they take away the stick they lean on; wounds which appeared incurable will have healed, fevers will have disappeared, along with heart trouble and epilepsy, by just removing a dirty handkerchief from one´s head. We shall call this house the Palace of Disillusionment and it will be so, thanks to the officials working there (in Pérez de Herrera, 1975, 258-259).

3. Three characters who are idle or ill employed: Quixotes, Don Juans and rogues (“pícaros”)

47The three personages we shall deal with flourished in a Castile, which, like the rest of the Empire and Europe, was undergoing substantial economic changes following the discovery of the Indies. These included the trade revolution (the change in the centre of international trade from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, a price revolution (inflation brought about by the flood of precious metals from the South American mines), the import of new products from the colonies, the decline of manufacturing in Castile and the economic take-off of cities in Northern Europe, such as Amsterdam.

48If the literary writers were quick-witted in reflecting in their works the appearance of a new character, the arbitrista, they were not quite so sharp in consciously reflecting the economic changes that were taking place, although their characters furnish us with numerous clues as to what was happening in Castile during the seventeenth century. It appears that the literati, just like other Castilians, were living in an “enchanted republic”, as mentioned by González de Cellorigo, or perhaps through their literature they were in fact offering their readers an escape from their daily problems. The skill of these writers, like that of Golden Age painters and sculptors, contrasts, thus, at times with their distance from the real world. From the numerous characters appearing in the copious amount of literature produced in the seventeenth century we have selected three as representative and three who later became internationally famous. We refer to Don Quixote, Don Juan and the rogue (“pícaro”). These characters are to be found in the Burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra by Tirso de Molina, Don Quijote de la Mancha and Rinconete y Cortadillo by Miguel de Cervantes and Guzmán de Alfarache by Mateo Alemán.

3.1. The petty nobleman Don Quixote

49If Don Juan and the rogue Guzmán de Alfarache lived in Seville and travelled through many great Italian cities, and Rinconete and Cortadillo ended up also “working” in Seville, Don Quixote lived and moved in rural areas, except in the second part of the work which takes place during several days in Barcelona, a city whose heyday had been when the Mediterranean was the hub of international trade. It had, however been eclipsed in the sixteenth century by Seville, a city linked to the Atlantic where great transformations were taking place regarding the way in which commercial and financial transactions were carried out.

50Don Quixote was one of those country gentleman or hidalgos who “whenever he was at leisure (which was mostly all the year round) gave himself up to reading books of chivalry with such ardour and enthousiasm that he almost entirely neglected the pursuit of his field-sports, and even the management of his property” (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 37). He was a petty nobleman “who keeps a lance in a rack, an ancient leather shield, a scrawny hack and a greyhound for coursing. A midday stew with rather more shin of beef than leg of lamb, the leftovers for supper most nights, lardy eggs on Saturdays, lentil broth on Fridays and an occasional pigeon as a Sunday treat ate up three-quarters of his income” (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 37). He had a small number of servants, a housekeeper and a young lad. He lived with his young niece and a priest and a barber were frequent visitors to his home. Sancho, his travel companion, is a “farmworker, a neighbour of his, a good man, if this label can be attached to someone living in poverty, but not a very bright individual” (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 91). The economist, Piernas Hurtado (1874, 34-35) makes the point that “D. Quixote is a man with a certain social status, albeit a modest one, comfortably off, a nobleman with property, from which he obtains an income of five hundred silver coins, a bachelor looking after and living off his income, whose leisurely existence contributed to his dementia in no small way, whereas poor old Sancho the farm labourer, is paid a few coppers as his daily wage”.

51Thus, in a period of profound changes and the growth of large cities, the nobleman lived in a godforsaken village in La Mancha. Rich noblemen moved to commercial cities such as Seville or to the court whilst those of more slender means stayed at home in the villages. When Don Quixote left his village his travels took him mainly through rural areas, the exception being Barcelona, as mentioned above. On his travels he comes across farmworkers, goatherds, and shepherds, as well as innkeepers of run down hostelries and travellers of different classes and condition: actors, friars, idle aristocrats, gentlemen real or imagined, Moorish converts, those fleeing justice, galley slaves, soldiers, students and the poor. Not to mention a typical character in the rural world, the bandit.

  • 10 Santos and Ramos (in Perdices de Blas and Santos, 2007, 83-84) claim that the whole of Don Quixote (...)

52At one moment in the work, a description is given of the wealth of the different provinces of Spain, but attention is given solely to country provinces, not the industrial or commercial ones (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 192-193). Don Quixote goes beyond that and on occasions praises the Golden Age, making it sound more like a description of an earthly paradise, where “all things were held in common ”, in which “the heavy coulter of the arching plough had not yet ventured to open and enter the tender womb of our first mother” (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 122). What is more he states his conviction that “I was born by the will of heaven in this iron age of ours, to revive in it the age of gold” (Cervantes, 1998, t I, 208).10 Nonetheless, different people associate “villein” and “labourer” on the one hand, and “lord” and “knight” on the other. (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 325).

53Neither does Quixote show a broad knowledge of other productive sectors, even though they are linked to the countryside, nor does he value them. When they realize that the strange noises emanating from the darkness of the night are simple fulling mills .Don Quixote tells Sancho that he doesn’t need to know what fulling hammers are “I have never seen such things in my life, just as you will have seen them often being a miserable peasant, born and brought up among them” (Cervantes, 1998, t. l, 220).

54He does not rate mechanical work highly. “Of the plebeian stock all I can say is that it only serves to swell the ranks of the living, and its achievements deserve no more fame or praise than that ” (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 675). And he concludes “There are two roads, my daughters […] to riches and honour: one is letters, the other is arms” (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 676). He notes that great lineages reveal themselves through virtue, wealth and liberal views: “the great man who is sin-ridden can only be a great sinner, and the wealthy man who is not generous will be nothing but a miserly beggar” (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 676).

55Moreover, his condition as a knight errant makes him keep his distance from the most rudimentary economic transactions and give ample proof of living, in the words of Cellorigo in a “republic of enchanted men”. On many occasions mention has been made of his unwillingness to pay his shield bearer a wage. “I do not believe, replied Don Quixote, that such squires were ever paid wages: they depended upon favour” (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 222). Sancho does not share this opinion and the topic comes up on various occasions in the novel despite his having been promised the governorship of an island as “a favour”. The innkeeper on the knight´s first sally asks him if he has money on him, to which he replies “He did not have so much as a single real”, because he had never read in histories of knights errant that any of them had ever carried money” (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 56).When he goes forth a second time, he also refuses to pay the innkeeper because knights did not do such things (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 1, 183). Nonetheless, he ends up by selling and pawning part of his estate and obtains a “reasonable amount” for funding his travels (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 92)

56Finally, it should be mentioned that Sancho, unlike his master and like many poor people and rogues who wanted to try their luck in big cities or in the Americas, did indeed want to leave his village. Ultimately, the sensible, pragmatic Sancho is corrupted by the same eccentricities as his master, like Don Juan, as we shall see later on, eccentricities which upset the lives of farmworkers and fishermen. Cervantes in his work shows us the dual economy of 16th century Spain. On the one hand, in El Quijote he describes the actions of a nobleman living in a village and travelling mainly through rural areas and in Rinconete y Cortadillo, on the other, he describes the wanderings of the two rogues in the big city of Seville.

3.2. Don Juan the courtier

57In the Burlador de Sevilla y convidado de piedra (the sneerer of Seville and the uninvited guest) a set of characteristics are set out in the plot and in the figure of its main character, which, as we saw in the second section, was criticized by the arbitristas. Traits of this type were the idleness of the nobility and their lives filled with intrigue, lies, betrayals and licentiousness together with, the abuses of power in the court committed by those who were privy to the king. The play portrays a large number of people who spent their time on unproductive work, such as servants and the way in which people who devoted themselves to productive work, such as agriculture or fishing, were undervalued.

58The plot of the work by Tirso de Molina published in 1630, in the midst of the reign of Philip IV, who was advised by his powerful favourite, the Count-Duke Olivares, takes place in Seville in the period when the court of Alfonso XI resided there. This monarch lived there till 1331 at a time when he was engaged in fighting the Moors in Granada. In this court the father of Don Juan, was the Head of the King´s Bedchamber in the Palace and “the head of justice and the king´s favourite” (Molina, 2011, 145). Don Diego had given long service to the monarch since his youth when he travelled in Naples and Milan as a brave soldier (Molina, 2011, 191). The uncle of the womanizing Don Juan Tenorio, Don Pedro, was the King´s Ambassador in Naples. Therefore, Don Juan belongs to a powerful family and he is well aware of the fact. When he wishes to impress one of his victims, the country girl Aminta, the seducer proudly exclaims:

I am a noble gentleman
head of family
one of the Tenorios of old
those who conquered Seville
My father, after the king
Is held in esteem only second to the king
And at court his word
decides life and death
(Molina, 2011, 151-152)

And, if that was not enough, the king himself considers him one of his own (Molina, 2011, 192)

59When the monarch rewards his trusty servant, the Knight Commander of Calatrava Don Gonzalo de Ulloa, he does so by arranging the wedding of his daughter, Doña Ana, with Don Juan. When the monarch hears of the rakish behavior of the seducer in Naples, behavior which had besmirched the honour of the Duchess Isabela, he gives him a light punishment and the monarch states that “this is because of the merit of his father” (Molina, 2011, 81). He is sent into exile in Lebrija but is appointed as Count of that town, and forced into marriage with the Duchess. Protected by the king and his family and the light punishment mean that don Juan can carry on behaving as before.

60Right at the end of the play the monarch wishes to find out more about Don Juan´s irregular behavior and wonders “Is that how my favourites behave?” (Molina, 2011, 214). He condemns the womanizer to death, but the latter has already been punished by Gonzalo de Ulloa, “the uninvited guest”. The monarch puts an end to the intrigues and arranges the wedding of Isabela and Octavio, and Ana de Ulloa with the Marquis of Mota and Batricio with Aminta. The marriages act as a cover up for the unorthodox behavior of some of those taking part. It has to be remembered that the monarch had ordered Don Juan first of all to marry Doña Ana and then Isabela and Octavio first commanded to marry Doña Ana and, finally he marries Isabela. All including Isabela, Ana, Mota and Octavio are courtiers who overlook the damage caused to their honour and that they cause to other people. In fact, nobody remembers the modest fisherwoman Tisbea who is left devoid of honour, husband and estate.

  • 11 González de Ulloa, when he eulogised the city of Lisbon, states that it is “The biggest city in Spa (...)
  • 12 Other later writers associated this realm with several triumphs on the battlefield, but especially (...)

61The choice of King Alfonso XI, the great grandson of Alfonso X the wise, and his court is not fortuitous. The portrait of the king as not very aware of what is going on around him, and governed by his favourite, together with the historical inaccuracies of the plot leads us to think that really Tirso de Molina is attacking the reigns of Philip III and Philip IV with their favorites Lerma and Olivare.11 This means the plot is set in a kingdom with very similar characteristics to those of Castile in the first half of the seventeenth century.12

62Hitherto we have witnessed the vices of the court and the idleness of its residents, aspects criticized by the arbitristas. Next, we shall examine how Don Juan acted. We have already stated that he was a noble protected by a powerful family and a monarch who does not want to remove the blinkers from his eyes until the very end.

63Don Juan lives for the present, he does not care about the future and uses an expression from the world of commerce when reminded that his conduct and licentious behavior will be paid for in an afterlife. “You trust me for no long!”(Molina, 2011, 71). This phrase is often repeated throughout the work. So when his servant reminds him:

Look what you have done and cast your eyes
up to the time of your demise, my lord
the longest of lives is short
for after death comes empire
(Molina, 2011, 146)

64Don Juan replies: “If you trust me for so long, there are bound to be deceptions” (Molina, 2011, 146). Don Juan is a noble “friend of pleasure” (Molina, 2011, 177). He abandons any subservience to an afterlife, but his worldly life does not lead him towards work, rather to idleness and immediate enjoyment. He wants to take pleasure in his freedom, but it never ceases to be the freedom of privilege and rank.

65Don Juan boasts of his nobility and of being a gentleman in a way which is close to arrogance. Octavio makes the point that he acts at all times “with the arrogance of the Spaniard” (Molina, 2011, 189). Before “the uninvited guest” he states

I possess, and I am a man of my word
For I am a gentleman
(Molina, 2011, 181)

  • 13 Molière´s Don Juan is not very concerned about money and behaves cynically with Dimanche, the merch (...)

66He also scoffs at the peasant fears of his servants when Gonzalo de Ulloa appears, in the famous scene in which he accepts the invitation to dine with the former. A gentleman can never be afraid. He does not despise money, “What I call a bad day, unhappy and detestable is when I have no money” (Molina, 2011 199).13

67It will be his servant who at all times will point out to him that he is behaving badly. In the first place, as we mentioned, he reminds him of the need to account for his behavior in the next life. Secondly, he points out that his lord is a perfect gentleman whenever no woman is involved (Molina 2011, 89)

68Thirdly, the servant also shows how Don Juan places too much trust in his family clan as well as his father´s influence over the king. He points out that even the powerful will have to render accounts at the last:

With those who steal
God is wont to take revenge
If crimes remain unpunished
(Molina, 2011, 145-146)

69As his servant points out, despite Don Juan being a seducer, and perhaps a blusterer and a liar, however often he may call himself a gentleman, however attractive the figure of this “disobedient”, “bold” character might appear (Molina 2011, 24), and however much he is presented as “a splendid, elegant, noble and attractive young man” (Molina, 2011, 51), we are always reminded of the less attractive features of his behavior.

  • 14 Marañon (2008, 71) states : “Don Juan […] has no known occupation apart from trade with women”. He (...)

70Don Juan confesses that “his greatest pleasure“ is “deceiving and dishonouring a woman” (Molina, 2011, 99). He likes to present himself as the “punisher of women” in the words of his servant (Molina, 2011, 67). That is, one of his pet games in his leisure time is deceiving and dishonouring any type of woman, whether noble or ordinary.14 But he also steals (Tisbea´s mares), swindles prostitutes and speaks cruelly about them (Molina, 2011,88-93), while disobeying the monarch by spending a night in Seville when he has been exiled to Lebrija and, especially, he is capable of killing Gonzalo de Ulloa and allowing the Marquis of Mota to take the blame despite being innocent. He has no qualms about deceiving even friends of his belonging to the same privileged group as himself.

  • 15 In Molière´s Don Juan Tenorio, a new trait is added : Tenorio is non-religious, a freethinker, blas (...)

71Other nobleman in the play are equally as idle, disloyal and arrogant as Don Juan. This is so with Octavio, but particularly the case with the Marquis of Mota. When he is about to be arrested by mistake for having killed Gonzalo de Ulloa he upbraids the forces of the law saying “How dare you speak to the Marquis of Mota in this way?” (Molina, 2011, 123). Even in front of the monarch he dares to ask him “Does your Highness order me to be caught” (Molina, 2011, 124). Along with Don Juan he shares a certain joking attitude to authority. As a counterpoint to all these nobleman Don Gonzalo de Ulloa had acted nobly, in the service of the king, in Lisbon.15

72Another notable characteristic in the play is the low esteem in which those who work in modest but productive jobs, such as agriculture and fishing, are held. Don Juan is aware that “honour” went to the village “to escape from cities” (Molina, 2011, 142), but he despises those who are manual workers in the countryside. He always associates Batricio, the decent peasant, with “vulgarity”, even though Aminta says that everything about him was “simple truth” (Molina, 2011, 153). The peasant girl´s naiveté and her ambition are circumstances which the seducer is well able to exploit. The peasants are impressed when he comes to visit: “The son of the Head of the King´s Bedchamber!” (Molina, 2011, 131), but they also distrust aristocrats. Batricio says of Don Juan “I consider him to be a bad omen, as a beau and a nobleman” (Molina, 2011, 129). Aminta is betrayed by her desire to get rich, but she is aware of the danger she is in when she has a relationship with the handsome young man. “Shamelessness in Spain has become a gentleman” (Molina, 2011, 143). In fact, it is the excesses and arrogance of the nobility that are being denounced here.

73Tisbea is a fisherwoman from the coast of Tarragona, a woman who accepts no offers of love from fishermen, her equals, but who gets caught in the net of Don Juan. Although she is a daydreamer, at least she works for living. Tisbea knows that there is inequality between Don Juan and herself, but the latter obtains her silence by saying:

Love is king
which evens up with a just law
silk and coarse cloth
(Molina, 2011, 70)

74Not only does she come to realize that such a thing is false, she also loses her honour and Don Juan even steals her mares.

75In short, even if the way in which the play deals with the characters working in agriculture and fishing reminds us on occasions of how they are described in pastoral novels, in the end, Don Juan values his nobility more and despises the rustic nature of those who are manual workers. There is only one moment when commercial activity is appreciated and it is when a big city, Lisbon, is eulogised. The admiring comment is made that in this city “there is a merchant who, since he can´t count his money, measures it in bushels” (Molina, 2011, 63). Neither the activity nor the money gained from it is despised.

76Such ill treatment of productive work is in contrast to the numerous servants who appear in the plot. These servants attend to the needs of their idle masters and collaborate in their intrigues and deceits. They are people of talent, like the servant of Don Juan who is capable of warning what his disgraceful behavior will lead to. On many occasions they are reminiscent of the figure of Don Quixote´s faithful shieldmbearer, Sancho Panza. As is the case of the rogues,(chancers, in Spanish “pícaros”) these talents are wasted, not devoted to useful employment, just as the arbitristas would claim.

3.3. The rogue´s singular occupation

  • 16 For this point see Perdices de Blas and Reeder in Perdices de Blas and Santos Redondo (2006, 60-66) (...)

77There is a very extensive Spanish literature in which rogues play a leading part, from Lazarillo de Tormes to Estebanillo González and Cojuelo the devil, and including Guzmán de Alfarache, Rinconete, Cortadillo and El Buscón. By way of a sample we will consider the works of two successful novelists, Mateo Alemán and Miguel de Cervantes, two contemporary novelists with certain biographical traits in common: they were both in contact with the economy through their jobs (tax collectors), they were both imprisoned and their main works, Guzmán de Alfarache and El Quijote had such great success that they spawned apocryphal second parts and various pirate editions. However, in spite of having several characteristics in common, they were also very different. Alemán´s work was clearly moralistic and exemplary in nature, unlike that of Cervantes. Cervantes simply describes the life of the rogue without any explicit moral condemnation: Alemán also believed that living a life of idleness will lead inevitably to becoming a rogue and a criminal.16

78The genre of the picaresque novel highlights the following fact: the rogue, in addition to being lazy wastes his talent in dubious activities, which in most cases are illegal. The parents of the three rogues we shall refer to have jobs, but their children do not decide to follow them (though Guzmán de Alfarache and his merchant father at one time share the same trade, though they use it to swindle). Guzmán de Alfarache, Rinconete and Cortadillo know where to ply their trade: in Seville, the great commercial and financial capital of Europe, or in other big cities. Cervantes and Alemán both describe the rogues´ heterodox “working life”.

79Rinconete and Cortadillo are two adolescents of barely seventeen years of age, who dress in cloth breeches and “go barelegged” (Cervantes, 201, 162), and finding themselves in La Mancha decide to join up together and travel to Seville. Cortadillo, the younger one, declares his working skills: “I run like a hare, and jump like a deer” (Cervantes, 2001, 164), although he had picked up some notions of tailoring from his father. Rinconete, on the other hand, boasts of being a gentleman and that his father “is a noble person since he sells indulgences” (Cervantes, 2001, 165-166). The pair for a short time followed in their fathers´ footsteps but both choose later to steal.

80On reaching Seville, they become “errand boys” a job which did not incur tax and could serve as cover for their true profession, stealing. They were successful at it but quickly became aware that it was not a “free profession, free from any tax” (Cervantes, 2001, 178). They arrived in a city where robbery was organized as a guild, with its own regulations, its “grand Master, Señor Monipodio, and its officers (guild members) and apprentices (beginners). Rinconete and Cortadillo are introduced and soon fit in to this group of criminals which constitutes a firm with its own rules and customs. They immediately become “elder guild members”, without having to go through a year’s “apprenticeship” and without paying the first half year tax corresponding to their first robbery. They were promoted because they know the job well. This guild of delinquents has a self-help network, like all the other guilds, and guild members commend their souls to God so that “he may free us and keep us in our dangerous trade, without any upsets caused by the law”. (Cervantes, 2001, 195). Cervantes, in fact, sarcastically sets out all the privileges and dodges of the guilds.

81Guzmán de Alfarache familiarises us with a rogue who becomes a criminal because of idleness, someone who is talented but allows such talent to run to waste (tramp, petty thief, professional thief, a vendor of stolen goods, gambler, a servant who knows it all and a pimp of his own wife). Moreover, he describes a world where trade is not kindly looked upon, but nor are authorities who take advantage of their position or clergy who may be good-hearted but unwittingly contribute to the corruption of the poor.

82If Cervantes, in Rinconete y Cortadillo, paints us a picture of Seville as the headquarters of colonial commerce and also of guilds who limit the exercising of their trades, Alemán shows the city in the following way:

…. there are merchants here [Seville] willing to buy and sell anything. It is a common fatherland and free port for thieves, open territory, a world without end, mother to orphans and a cloak to hide sinners, where everything is in short supply and no one has anything. (Alemán,2003, t. I, 262)

83In the novel, there is an insistence on the idea that the dissolute life led by the main character and “the causes of all his ills” stem from idleness (Alemán, 2003, t.I, 318), which is something which gives rise to all types of vice. It is idleness and vice, not poverty, which leads Guzmán to leave his mother´s home: “I was a child of vice and spoilt, brought up in Seville, where no father ever laid a hand on me, and my mother was a widow- as you have heard-, fattened on pancakes, sponge cakes, buttery biscuits and soups made with pink honey, admired and spoiled more than any son of a Toledo merchant or similar” (Alemán, 2003, t. I, 163). As if this were not enough, he adds: “Idleness is the common field which leads to perdition, the plough for sowing evil thoughts, the seed which sows trouble, the hoe which pulls up all good actions, the scythe that that cuts down honour, the cart bringing evils and silo where all vices are gathered” (Alemán, 2003,t. l, 318). Alonso de Barros, in the eulogy written as the preface of the novel, states that the author “has portrayed in lifelike form a son of idleness” (Alemán, 2003, t. I, 115).

84Nor does the author only show that idleness brings about roguishness and criminal behavior, he also sets out the idea that the rogue has too much talent which is wasted in unsuitable activities and in most of these cases illegal ones. The rogue begs, robs, gambles and gets rich easily through cheating or criminal business. That is, he flees from the following rule for moral behavior: “take this rule: make confession as if you were about to die, obey what is defined as justice, giving to each what is his or hers; eat from the sweat of your brow and not somebody else´s, make use of goods which are honestly acquired: then you will be happy on your travels and everything will turn out well for you” (Alemán 2003, t. I, 288). There is a constant repetition of the refrain that “What is well acquired can be lost, and what is ill-acquired will be lost, along with its owner” (Alemán, 2003 t. I, 159) or “There is no task so harsh that, with goodwill, gain cannot be obtained from it” (Alemán, 2003, t. I, 331).

85It was obvious that thieving and accepting stolen goods is no way to earn one´s living decently, but neither is begging, which is encouraged, according to Alemán, thanks to the misunderstood policy of charity. In the rogue´s first trip to Italy, and, in particular during his stay in Rome, he criticizes how the way in which the clergy exercised charity aims foments idleness. Throughout the novel, just like Pérez de Herrera, as we saw in the second section, the idea of giving alms in an indiscriminate fashion is criticized and all the tricks used by those who have no licence to beg are described. This criticism is centered particularly on that part of Guzmán´s life which took place in Italy. He rebukes in particular the freedom to beg practiced in Rome “it is just to give to each what is his fair share, and I admit that in Italy charity is so rife that I found it so attractive that once I started I didn´t want to stop” (Alemán, 2003, t. I, 386). In other words, he was talking about the profession of begging. He adds that “we were fed, watered and more than looked after”.

86He stresses that poor alms seekers had two types of freedom. First of all, freedom to “beg without losing” (Alemán 2003, t.I, 404). The poor begged just like kings did, the difference being that the latter just did so for “the common good” and ”the poor for themselves, because they have this bad habit” (Alemán, 2003, t. I, 407). The second freedom is that “of the five senses”: Who, nowadays, makes the more joyous use of them than a poor man, and more safely or pleasantly?” (Alemán, 2003, t. I, 407). He concludes with the following words: “Once men open their mouths to beg, closing their eyes to any shame they may feel, they tie up their hands where work is concerned, blocking any movement of their feet when asked to do anything, they are beyond redemption” (Alemán, 2003, t. I, 166). In just one brief paragraph (Alemán, t. I, 427) the arguments of the rogue remind us of those of Domingo de Soto, a Dominican in favour of the freedom to beg, as we saw in the former section, when he states in defence of this lucrative activity that the poor must use all types of deceit and tricks of the trade in order to break down the “hard hearts of the rich”.

  • 17 It is not just some commercial and financial activities that come in for criticism, but also those (...)

87Dealing in commerce is similarly not well regarded. The rogue´s father was a trader who lived, amongst other places, in Genoa, where, like the natives of this republic, he dabbled “in money lending and exchanging of currencies from all over the world” (Alemán, 2003, t. I, 131). His father had the reputation of being a “usurer” and his way of doing business was not too respectable. Alemán in addition to criticising the trade of money lender and trader, emphasizes the risks of carrying out these activities. The father was always involved in shady business. He also criticises the lawsuits in which he was involved as a result of his business transactions, the arbitrariness of judges and the abuses of notaries. He has no solid moral or religious principles (he even changes his religion twice). In short, he concludes: “when everything was murky and dubious, my father only did what the others did and he was not the only one to sin” (Alemán, 2003, t. I, 142). When he refers to the world of commerce, even though he does not wish to offend those who act honestly, it does not come out of it well. There is a certain negative feeling about wealth and in this fashion Guzmán affirms towards the end of the book “If poverty made me bold, wealth made me confident” (Alemán, 2003, t. I, 336). This sentence becomes even truer for Alemán when, like the rogue, wealth has been obtained easily and crookedly.17

88Finally, he also has words of disapproval for innkeepers (“How much thieving, how much petty dictatorship, what a total lack of shame, how much bad behavior is to be found in hostels and inns”! (Alemán, 2003, t. I; 272), those who live off the income from “censos” (Alemán, 2003, t. I, 490-511), servants who steal (“I blame their masters, who pay poor, infrequent wages, because they take advantage of those in need and few of these servants will be faithful”, Alemán, 2003, t. I, 314) and the gentlemen and the rich who spend their money unnecessarily and don´t look after their estates (“if rich people wished to govern themselves I´m sure they´d never be poor”, Alemán, 2003, t. I, 313). Nor do women escape criticism for helping to spend their husbands´ estate (“I got married a rich man, I´m now a poor husband” (Alemán, 2003, t. I, 384).


89In this paper, we have sought to contrast the views of the arbitristas, Spanish writers on themes related to the political economy of their time, the 17th century, with a more literary interpretation of some of these topics as expressed in works of creative fiction by some of the foremost writers of the period, Cervantes, Tirso de Molina, Mateo Alemán. We have taken one specific problem, that of idleness, unemployment and unproductive employment to illustrate our comparison. We have chosen three archetypal Spanish literary figures, Don Quixote, Don Juan, and the pícaro or rogue, to develop our argument, returning to the literary texts themselves rather than a accumulating and re-interpreting a mass of secondary source material. Similarly, we have considered how these same literati viewed the arbitristas and their writings, how they took a largely negative view, thus contributing towards the denigration of the arbitrista and his proposals as a pernicious influence on public affairs, and indeed, in the case of Cervantes, as madmen with dangerously absurd views.

We thank the two anonymous referees whose useful advices have improved the paper. We also appreciate the assistance provided by Luis Fernández Cifuentes at Harvard University.

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1 These myths compete with other characters, also Spanish, with heterodox occupations, such as La Celestina, the procuress, or Carmen, a sensual woman surrounded by gypsies, bullfighters and bandits.

2 Covarrubias in his Tesoro de la Lengua Castellana, in the word “Alvedrío” gives a totally negative definition of the word arbitrio, relating it to the arbitristas, “lost people”, according to him : “And on other occasions arbitrio amounts to the same as what it appears to mean ; nowadays it has been limited to meaning something particularly harmful, which is to draw up plans as to how to obtain money and destroy the kingdom ; because normally, those who give such advice are lost people” (Covarrubias,1994, 43). The Diccionario de Autoridades (1726), based almost exclusively on examples from the seventeenth century, provides a more aseptic version, going back to its original fiscal sense in his word “Arbitrio”, but it later qualifies it in literary quotations from Quevedo and Saavedra Fajardo, which it subsequently includes in a completely negative sense.

3 On Cervantes and arbitrismo, see Perdices de Blas and Reeder in Perdices de Blas and Santos Redondo (2006, 43-47). Cervantes and Quevedo are the authors quoted in the Diccionario de Autoridades (1723) as being the writers who contributed the most towards redefining the term Arbitrista.

4 Quevedo in El Buscón (published in 1626, but written long before), also refers to arbitristas, see Vilar (1973, 78-85). The references to arbitristas in Vilar´s Política de Dios in Vilar (1973, 268-270).

5 On the rediscovery of arbitrista thought by eighteenth century economists, see chapter 6 of Perdices de Blas (1996). In the twentieth century the figure of arbitristas was restored with monographs published by various historians, among others, Dubet (2003, 2009), Cuartas Rivero (1981), Grice-Hutchinson (1982, 1995), Gutiérrez Nieto (1978, 1982), Larraz (2000), Perdices de Blas (1996), Vilar (1973) and Vilar (1980).

6 In chapter 6, in the second part of Don Quixote, Cervantes makes a further reference to the “impertinent” arbitrios (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 671-672).

7 A measure of the significance of these arbitristas is the fact that many of them were re-edited over a century later in the 18th century by the Spanish ilustrados as valid and useful diagnoses of the ills of the Spanish economy (Perdices de Blas, 1996).

8 Where differences begin to make their appearance is in the importance assigned to each of the productive sectors to restore wealth in Castile. Some refer to productive activities in general whereas others opt for agriculture or stockbreeding. Finally, a large group which influenced other seventeenth century arbitristas and many distinguished economists, the so-called “Toledo group” headed by Sancho de Moncada, would rely on manufacturing capacity to restore definitively the wealth of Castile (Perdices de Blas, 1996, chapter 3).

9 They also made an extensive analysis of the following obstacles stemming from legislation : too many laws, internal and overseas trade policy, the tax system, attacks on private property and the unequal distribution of this property (Perdices de Blas, 1996, chapter 5). On the other hand, they paid no attention to obstacles deriving from the Spain’s physical geography because, following in the tradition of the Laudes Hispaniae, they stressed the natural richness and fertility of Castile, which could also count on rich colonies of the Indies.

10 Santos and Ramos (in Perdices de Blas and Santos, 2007, 83-84) claim that the whole of Don Quixote is “a skit on the idealisation of rustic life which appears in the Renaissance and with the urbanization process”.

11 González de Ulloa, when he eulogised the city of Lisbon, states that it is “The biggest city in Spain” (Molina, 2011, 60). Alfonso XI died in 1350 and until 1580 Spain and Portugal were not united. What is more, at one particular moment he says that he had had dealings with Juan I of Portugal who was born after Alfonso XI of Castile died (Molina, 2011, 58). De la Ponte´s Don Giovanni takes place in seventeenth century Spain.

12 Other later writers associated this realm with several triumphs on the battlefield, but especially with the monarch´s licentious behavior and with corruption. In this sense Jose Joaquín de Mora (2011, 223) shows the monarch as “a model of disgusting licentiousness”.

13 Molière´s Don Juan is not very concerned about money and behaves cynically with Dimanche, the merchant who lends him money, and even makes fun of him (Molière, 2011, 312-321).

14 Marañon (2008, 71) states : “Don Juan […] has no known occupation apart from trade with women”. He adds “The native Castilian male is represented not by the Don Juan, but rather the Médico de su Honra (The doctor of his honour), that is, by the husband, lover, father or brother who place the couple´s and family honour in the virtue of the wife, and do not give way in anything in defence of it or avenging it not just when it is affronted, but merely when there is a suspicion that it might be” (346).

15 In Molière´s Don Juan Tenorio, a new trait is added : Tenorio is non-religious, a freethinker, blasphemer and rationalist (Molière, 2011, 225) In da Pontes´ Don Giovanni Don Juan is more of a seducer and freedom lover (Ponte, 2011, 491) and the plot has more erotic content. There is a short essay on the Don Juan myth in Lasaga Medina (2004).

16 For this point see Perdices de Blas and Reeder in Perdices de Blas and Santos Redondo (2006, 60-66). Cervantes describes the rogues` life, without offering any moral judgment. Only Sancho Panza, the governor of Barataria, has a rant about the idle poor in the same style as Alemán (Cervantes, 1998, t. I, 1025). Guzmán de Alfarache seeks to be an illustration of the theses about the false healthy poor describes by the reformist Cristóbal Pérez de Herrera. It should be mentioned that there existed a circle of literati, doctors and reformers who lived in Madrid and were concerned with the problem of healthy beggars and its moral, political and economic consequences. This was made up of, among others, the novelist Alemán, doctors Cristóbal Pérez and Francisco de Valles, the dramatist Félix Lope de Vega, the royal servant Alonso de Barros and the lawyer and poet Juan Antonio de Herrera, the son of Pérez de Herrera. They were all linked by personal and ideological connections and it appears that Cervantes disagreed strongly with the ideas of the group. As to whether Alemán wrote his novel to illustrate the thesis of Pérez de Herrera or not, see, Cros (1967), Cavillac (preliminary study to Pérez de Herrera, 1975) and Micó (preliminary study to Alemán´, 2003).

17 It is not just some commercial and financial activities that come in for criticism, but also those involved in provisioning towns and cities with basic commodities. He denounces how the inspectors encourage monopolies thus raising the prices of goods artificially (Alemán, 2003, t. I, 170), but in particular, his ire is reserved for speculators : “powerful rich, many of them like whales, who open their greedy mouths in an attempt to swallow everything so their houses are provided for and their income multiplied”, (Alemán, 2003, t. I, 172).

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Luis Perdices de Blas et John Reeder, « Quixotes, Don Juans, rogues and arbitristas in seventeenth century Castile », Œconomia, 3-4 | 2013, 561-591.

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Luis Perdices de Blas et John Reeder, « Quixotes, Don Juans, rogues and arbitristas in seventeenth century Castile », Œconomia [En ligne], 3-4 | 2013, mis en ligne le 01 mai 2014, consulté le 29 avril 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/oeconomia.702

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Luis Perdices de Blas

Department of Economic History and Institutions I, Faculty of Economics and Business Studies, Complutense University of Madrid, Campus of Somosaguas, 28223 Madrid, Spain.

John Reeder

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