First published on Underbelly: Maryland Historical Society, November 10th, 2016
Earlier this year I started researching into the life and works of Professor Mariano Cubí y Soler as a Lord Baltimore Fellow at the Maryland Historical Society. During this time, I have learned a great deal about professor Cubí y Soler, an innovative and distinguished scholar in the nineteenth century in the United States, Latin American, and Spain. In this article, I offer an adapted version of my entire research and focus only on professor Cubí y Soler’s transcendental works and legacy in the field of Spanish language instruction in the state of Maryland.
Mariano Cubí y Soler was born on December 13, 1801 in Malgrat de Mar, Spain. His father was originally from Italy and his mother was from Igualada, Spain. Cubí’s childhood was marked by the civil and political unrest of the Napoleonic period. When he was only 8 years old, the difficulties caused by the war with the French forced his family to move to Mahón in the island of Minorca, Spain.(1) He completed his primary and secondary education in Mahón and became fully fluent in the Mahones language. At 14 years old, Cubí began studying English and French out of his own personal interests for languages and philosophy. His English instructor was distinguished professor William Casey, who proposed an innovative teaching style at the time for foreign language teaching that included idiomatic phrases and everyday activities as a means to learning the language.(2) On March 2, 1821—at the age of 20—Mariano Cubí y Soler moved from Spain to Washington DC. Months after his arrival he was offered the position of Spanish professor at Mount St. Mary’s University by Mr. Edward Damphoux, president of the university at the time.
It is important to note that in the 1800s, Mount St. Mary’s University was a highly innovative American institution in foreign language instruction. It was the third university in the United States to include Spanish classes and was the first institution in higher education to teach Spanish in the state of Maryland.(3) Mount St. Mary’s University’s first Spanish professor was Father Peter Babad, an émigré French priest who had lived for five years in Spain before coming to the United States. Father Babad taught two Spanish courses at the university from 1800 to 1820 when he retired.(4) Mariano Cubí y Soler succeeded Father Babad as the next Spanish professor at Mount St. Mary’s in 1821. At that moment, professor Cubí y Soler became part of the legacy of Spanish language instruction in the United States as the second Spanish professor of the only Spanish-teaching university in the state of Maryland.(5)
At the time of Cubí’s appointment as a Spanish professor at Mount St. Mary’s University, there was little to no academic resources for Americans to learn Castilian which was the term used at that time to refer to the Spanish language.(6) Professor Cubí y Soler identified that gap of resources and decided to do something about it. In 1822 he published his first two books, Diálogos (Dialogues) and Nueva Grámatica Española (New Spanish Grammar). Diálogos was a resource that taught Spanish using dialogues and everyday conversations. This book received general acceptance among fellow academics and students, but there is currently limited information about it and its academic impact at that time.(7) However, the book Nueva Grámatica Española was widely accepted in the United States as the best resource for academic Spanish learning at the time.(8) The Nueva Grámatica Española was considered for many years the only and best Spanish-English dictionary in the United States and was published many times, had six editions, and was also widely used in South America.(9) In addition to publishing these two books for the teaching and learning of Spanish, professor Cubí y Soler taught a class about Castilian literature, highly innovative at the time, that quickly made him a prestigious professional in his field at a young age.(10)
For the next eight years, professor Cubí worked at Mount St. Mary’s University and continued to publish many books and manuscripts that made him, without a doubt, one of most well-renowned and distinguished linguists of his time. Some of the most well-known publications during these eight years, besides Diálogos and Nueva Grámatica Española, include Extractos de los más célebres escritores y poetas españoles (two volumes), Gramática de la lengua castellana adaptada a toda clase de discípulos, a todo sistema de enseñanza, y al uso de aquellos estrangeros, que deseen conocer los principios, bellezas, y genio del idioma castellano, and El traductor español; or a new and practical system for translating the Spanish language. All of these language-learning publications followed a unique system developed by Cubí that was impacted by his former English professor in Mahón, professor William Casey. In his approach to language teaching, Mariano Cubí y Soler believed that students with bad memory needed repetition exercises, students with good memory benefited the most by doing active learning, introverted or reflective individuals learned better by practicing general principles, and scatterbrained individuals benefited the most from analysis. In addition, Mariano also stated that one universal requirement for language learning for every individual was constant practice of the information previously learned.(11)
During his professorship at Mount St. Mary’s University, Mariano Cubí taught for 14 hours daily, published many books and resources for teaching and learning Spanish, all while perfecting his language skills in French, Greek, and Latin and translating books and other manuscripts in Spanish, English, French, Italian, and Portuguese.(12) His publications during this time made him part of the teaching language reform at that time and made him particularly well-known for his teaching methodology as it pertained to orthography, phonetic orthography, and the usage of poetry to teach written language.(13) Even though his professional career was better than ever, early in the year 1829, Mariano Cubí y Soler felt that his mission in life and his academic legacy was yet not completed. He often said to himself that he needed to do more for his own people but money and resources were always a challenge.(14) As such, he wrote a letter to the General Captain of Cuba, the highest ranking member of Cuba at the time, asking for support in the opening of a school in there and his request was accepted and granted. As a result, on February 15, 1829, Mariano Cubí y Soler left his comfortable and prestigious life as a language professor in Mount St. Mary’s University and migrated to La Habana, Cuba to start a new chapter of his life. (Luis Javier Pentón Herrera)
Luis Javier Pentón Herrera, M.Ed., M.S., M.Ed, is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Leadership: Reading, Language and Literacy program at Concordia University Chicago. His current research focuses on Bilingual Education, Spanish, ESOL, Adult Education, Literacy Studies, and History of Hispanic Pedagogues. He was a MdHS Lord Baltimore Fellow in 2016.
Sources and Further Reading:
(1) López Gómez, José Manuel. “La frenología: Una doctrina psicológica organicista en Burgos. El Canónigo Corminas y Mariano Cubí”. Boletín de la Institución Fernán González, 1, (1994), pp. 67-85.
(2) Marco García, Antonio. “Traducción y literatura en los manuales de Mariano Cubí”, in Neoclásicos y románticos ante la traducción, eds. F. Lafarga, C. Palacios, & A. Saura, (Universidad de Murcia: España, 2002), pp. 165-184.
(3) Leavitt, Sturgis E. “The teaching of Spanish in the United States”. Hispania, 44(4), (1961), pp. 591-625; Spell, Jefferson Rea. “Spanish teaching in the United States”. Hispania, 10(3), (1927), pp. 141-159.
(4) Ibid, Leavitt, pp. 591-625; Herbermann, Charles George. Historical records and studies: Volume VIII. (New York, NY: The United States Catholic Historical Society, 1915).
(5) Ibid, Leavitt, pp. 591-625; Spell, pp. 141-159.
(6) Arañó, D. Miguel. “Biografía de D. Mariano Cubí y Soler: Distinguido frenólogo español” (1876).
(9) Marco García, pp. 165-184.
(12) Marco García, pp. 165-184; Cubí y Soler, Mariano. Gramática de la lengua castellana adaptada a toda clase de discípulos, a todo sistema de enseñanza, y al uso de aquellos estrangeros, que deseen conocer los principios, bellezas, y genio del idioma castellano. 1824. Baltimore, MD: José Robinson.
(13) Ibid, Marco García, pp. 165-184
(14) Arañó, 1876.
Cubí y Soler, Mariano. Extractos de los más célebres escritores y poetas españoles. (Baltimore, MD: José Robinson, 1822).
Cubí y Soler, Mariano. El traductor español; or a new and practical system for translating the Spanish language. (London: Boosey & Sons, 1826).
Herbermann, Charles George. Historical records and studies: Volume VIII. (New York, NY: The United States Catholic Historical Society, 1915).