Manuel Bretón De Los Herreros (1796-1873), Spanish dramatist, was born at Quel (Logroño) on the 19th of December 1796 and was educated at Madrid. Enlisting on the 24th of May 1812, he served against the French in Valencia and Catalonia, and retired with the rank of corporal on the 8th of March 1822. He obtained a minor post in the civil service under the liberal government, and on his discharge determined to earn his living by writing for the stage. His first piece, á la vejez viruelas, was produced on the 14th of October 1824, and proved the writer to be the legitimate successor of the younger Moratin. His industry was astonishing: between October 1824 and November 1828, he composed thirty-nine plays, six of them original, the rest being translations or recasts of classic masterpieces. In 1831 he published a translation of Tibullus, and acquired by it an unmerited reputation for scholarship which secured for him an appointment as sub-librarian at the national library. But the theatre claimed him for its own, and with the exception of Elena and a few other pieces in the fashionable romantic vein, his plays were a long series of successes.
His only serious check occurred in 1840; the former liberal had grown conservative with age, and in La Ponchada he ridiculed the National Guard. He was dismissed from the national library, and for a short time was so unpopular that he seriously thought of emigrating to America; but the storm blew over, and within two years Bretón de los Herreros had regained his supremacy on the stage. He became secretary to the Spanish Academy, quarrelled with his fellow-members, and died at Madrid on the 8th of November 1873. He is the author of some three hundred and sixty original plays, twenty-three of which are in prose. No Spanish dramatist of the nineteenth century approaches him in comic power, in festive invention, and in the humorous presentation of character, while his metrical dexterity is unique. Marcela o a cual de los trés? (1831), Muérete; y verás! (1837) and La Escuela del matrimonio (1852) still hold the stage, and are likely to hold it so long as Spanish is spoken.
See Marqués de Molíns, Bretón de los Herreros, recuerdos de su vida y de sus obras (Madrid, 1883); Obras de Bretón de Herreros (5 vols., Madrid, 1883); E. Piñeyro, El Romanticismo en España (Paris, 1904).