Blanco White: an Anglicised Spaniard

Priest, poet and journalist, Blanco White escaped from Spain in 1810. Martin Murphy describest his last thirty years, spent in London, Oxford, Dublin and Liverpool.

‘My spirit was a battlefield upon which, with fluctuating fortune and a singular intensity, the powers of belief and scepticism waged, from first to last, their unceasing war; and within the compass of his experience are presented to our view most of the great moral and spiritual problems that attach to the condition of our race.’

Thus W. E. Gladstone, writing in June 1845 about one of the most versatile figures of the early nineteenth century, Spaniard by birth and Englishman by adoption, priest, poet, journalist, literary critic and theologian, a man who preached as a Catholic in the Royal Chapel of St Ferdinand in Seville Cathedral, as an Anglican in the University church of St Mary at Oxford and as a Unitarian in the Paradise Street chapel at Liverpool.

In England he is now largely forgotten, save as a figure in the background of early Tractarian Oxford. In Spain, after years of vilification he is re-emerging into celebrity as a founding father of modern Spanish intellectual and political dissent. Yet no part of his career can be understood except in relation to the whole.

Jose Maria Blanco y Crespo was born at Seville in 1775. His father’s family was Irish, from Waterford: his grandfather William White had moved to Seville to escape the penal laws, changing his surname from White to Blanco, and had established an export business in the city.1

The Crespo y Neve family, his maternal kinsmen, prided themselves on their social connections: one ancestor, Don Felipe de Neve, had been governor of California and a founder of Los Angeles. Blanco, an eldest son, grew up deeply devoted to his parents but he soon developed an antipathy to the prospect of a lifetime in the family firm. The only means of avoiding this fate and of continuing his studies was to commit himself to a career in the Church.

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