DON MIGUEL DE UNAMUNO was born at Bilbao in 1864, but the best creative years of his life were passed at Salamanca, where he became Rector of the University, having previously and afterwards held the chair of Greek at that famous seat of learning. In all probability he would still be there had he not found it impossible to refrain from criticizing the military dictatorship of His Excellency General Primo de Rivera who, in the autumn of 1923, had him arrested and deported to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. From there Don Miguel escaped to France, where he continued, in the strange company of Blasco Ibanez, to continue his protest against the regime of "the Royal Goose." In France also he wrote the present work, which was first published in French.
At that time little was known in this country or in England of a writer and teacher whose position in Spain was analogous to that of Croce in Italy, Bergson in France, or Tolstoy in Russia.
Hispanists like J. B. Trend had drawn attention to him, Havelock Ellis admired him, and in Rosinante to the Road Again John Dos Passos explained his peculiar position in contemporary Spanish literature. His chief work, The Tragic Sense of Life, had appeared in English but enjoyed no perceptible measure of recognition. The Europeans who associated their names in a manifesto against his deportation were all Continental writers. Subsequently a selected volume of his essays was translated, and his famous Life of Don Quixote and Sancho is announced. Thus L'Agonie du Christianisme is the fourth of his works to be offered to the English-reading public.
Miguel de Unamuno, as I have suggested elsewhere in an essay on him, presents a Spanish variety of Charles Kingsley's "muscular Christianity," the typical English Protestant and the untypical Spanish Catholic being alike in their religious individualism. Don Miguel has always been an ardent individualist and the least orthodox of men. If he sided with the Church and the authorities at the time of the Ferrer case, he was not by any means a conventional loyal citizen, as his articles in El Liberal used to demonstrate, as well as the opposition which his appointments at the University of Salamanca encountered. Nor was he a very orthodox professor or Rector, for his pupils remember him as talking of everything under the sun rather than of the Greek authors. His administration of the University was even the subject of parliamentary debate before the War.
This ex-Rector of the University of Salamanca is a Hellenist and a Christian philosopher, the former by profession, the latter by vocation. At a Welsh Eisteddfod Salvador de Madariaga, an interesting and bi-lingual interpreter of English and Spanish literature, discovered a resemblance between the Welsh clergy present and the Basque Unamuno. "A tall, broad-shouldered, bony man, with high cheeks, a beak-like nose, pointed gray beard, and a complexion the colour of the red haematites on which Bilbao, his native town, is built, and which Bilbao ruthlessly plucks from its very body to exchange for gold in the markets of Englandand in the deep sockets under the high'aggressive forehead prolonged by short iron-gray hair, two eyes like gimlets eagerly watching the world through spectacles which seem to be purposely pointed at the object like microscopes; a fighting expression, but of noble fighting, above the prizes of the passing world, the contempt for which is shown in a peculiar attire whose blackness invades even that little triangle of white which worldly men leave on their breast for the necktie of frivolity and the decorations of vanity, and, blinding it, leaves but the thinnest rim of white collar to emphasize, rather than relieve, the priestly effect of the whole. Such is Don Miguel de Unamuno."
In his religious meditations is heard the note of intellectual struggle in a mind torn between the emotional will to believe and the impulse of the logical faculties with their