Juan Meléndez Valdés was one of Spain’s forgotten afrancesados of the 18th and early 19th centuries. As a poet his contemporaries regarded him the equal of a Garcilaso or a Lope de Vega. He was, in the words of Martín Fernández de Navarrete, “the best poet of the epoch,” the precursor of the romantic movement in Spain. He was highly regarded in Italy, Germany, England, and especially in France. Poet by choice, jurist by training, humanist by inclination, and philosopher by conviction, Meléndez was a complex personality, a man of both deep reflection and action. He was, unfortunately, never able to develop his talents fully.
Meléndez served both the government of Charles IV and the French regime of Joseph I, being especially influential in the effort to develop a system of primary education and in the revival of the Spanish theater. He went down to ruin with Joseph, and spent the last years of his life, 1813-1817, in exile in France, his adopted motherland. He died in Montpelier, a forgotten and disgraced patriot whose great wish had been to serve his country well.