History Lesson


Henry Butler Clarke (1863-1904) was the Taylorian Professor of Spanish at Oxford University from 1890 to 1894. He was an authority on Spanish writing and culture. He published many books on Spanish studies. His book, Spanish Literature appeared in 1893. It remains relevant even today. The article below is from the 1921 reprint of the book, and is the chapter about the most famous Spanish writer of all - Cervantes. The extracts of Cervantes' work are in the original old Spanish, and the translations are all by Butler Clarke himself. There is a PDF file of the entire book here. I have reformatted and republished the book on Lulu.com and the new printed version can be found here.

CervantesMIGUEL DE CERVANTES was born at Alcalá de Henares and there baptised on the 9 of October 1547. (In after life Cervantes added the name of Saavedra to his own in order to distinguish himself from other members of the same family.) Other cities have disputed the honour of being the birthplace of the most famous of Spaniards, but the entry in the baptismal register, together with the affection with which he always speaks of Alcalá and its "famous Henares" (Meadows), should suffice to decide the controversy. Cervantes' family was noble, tracing its pedigree back to the old kings and chieftains of the north, to whom Lope alludes in the well-known couplet -

Para noble nacimiento
Hay en España tres partes;
Galicia, Vizcaya, Asturias,
O ya montaña le llamen.

(Birthplaces of noble families - there are three in Spain: - Galicia, Biscay, Asturias, - or the mountain-region, as it is called. - Premio del bien hablar.)

Some of the immediate ancestors of the great writer had held worthy positions in the state, or had been members of the noble military orders. His father was but a poor gentleman, and Miguel was the youngest of four children, two girls and two boys.

The legend that the young Cervantes, like most celebrated men of his time, studied at Salamanca rests on insufficient evidence. Of his early life and education we know little except that he was a pupil of Lopez de Hoyos, a school master of some fame in Madrid, and that, like others of his schoolfellows, he contributed to the elegies published on the lamented death of Isabel of Valois, the third wife of Felipe II. Nor was this Cervantes' only youthful attempt at verse, for he himself makes mention of other pieces, among which was a pastoral poem called Filena, now lost.

At the age of twenty-two Cervantes commenced the wandering life which brought him into such strange adventures, and, by causing him to mix with all classes of society and to become, as he says, "versed in misfortune," widened his sympathies and gave the experience necessary for the production of one of the world's greatest books. In Cardinal Acquaviva, the Papal Legate, occupied at that time in Madrid on affairs of state, Cervantes found the patron then necessary to a young man in search of fortune. He subsequently accompanied the Legate to Rome in the capacity of chamberlain. But the idle life of a great churchman's household was ill-suited to his bold and enterprising spirit, and in 1570 we find him at Naples serving in the renowned regiment of Moncada, with which he fought as a private soldier at Lepanto in the October of the following year. In after life the part, humble as it was, that he had taken in the greatest victory of the age never ceased to be regarded by him with honest pride, in spite of the heavy price he paid for his glory. For, speaking of the battle in lines to which even the literary defects give pathos, he says:

"At that sweet moment I, unfortunate, stood with sword grasped firmly in one hand, whilst from the other the blood ran down; in my breast I felt a deep and cruel wound, and my left hand was shattered into fragments."

(A esta dulce sazón yo, triste, estaba
Con la una mano de la espada assida,
Y sangre de la otra derramaba.
El pecho mío de profunda herida
Sentía llagado y la siniestra mano
Estaba por mil partes ya rompida.)

(Letter to Mateo Vasques.)

The valour of Cervantes on this occasion is fully proved by the statements of his comrades. In the testimonials which the elder Cervantes caused to be drawn up in the hope of gaining some relief for his own pressing necessities, and aid in procuring the release of his sons from slavery, Miguel's shipmates speak in glowing terms of the way in which, heedless of the fever from which he was suffering, he boarded the ship of the Pasha of Alexandria, and won the wounds which gave him the nickname of el manco de Lepanto (the cripple of Lepanto). Notwithstanding the disablement of his left hand, and the slow recovery which kept him for long a prisoner in the hospital at Naples, he continued to serve as a soldier for four years more. He was present at the taking of la Goleta under Don Juan de Austria, the hero of Lepanto, and accompanied his old regiment to Sardinia and Lombardy. In 1575, accompanied by his brother, he set out for home with letters of recommendation to distinguished persons. The galley, El Sol, in which they sailed, when nearly at the end of her voyage, was taken by the Algerian corsairs, who, at that time and long after, infested the narrow seas. At the division of the booty Cervantes fell to the share of a bloodthirsty renegade Greek, Deli Mami by name. For five bitter years he remained a captive and a slave at Algiers. Of his life during this time, and of his valour and enterprise, we have contemporary testimony. Before he had acquired fame as a writer, he was already widely known for the strange part he played at Algiers. He eventually became the property of Hassan Pasha, a renegade whose barbarous cruelties provoked comment, even in a place where mutilations of defenceless captives and brutal outrages of all kinds were common. Cervantes was one of twenty-five thousand Christian slaves who worked in chains for their owners, while awaiting their ransom from their native land. The letters addressed to persons of high position that had been found upon him at the time of his capture produced an exaggerated idea of his importance, and a larger sum was demanded for his liberation than his worldly position warranted. He seems to have taken from the first a prominent position among his fellow-captives, and he it was who planned and attempted to carry out many daring attempts at escape. It is from an impartial witness that we have the statement that Hassan Pasha was wont to declare that, but for the one-handed Spaniard, his prisoners, his ships, and his city would be safe. It is difficult to under stand why Hassan, who in Don Quixote is described as the "murderer of the whole human race," did not cut short his bold slave's career by a speedy execution; we are told that he was impressed by the bold bearing and clever answers of the man; and indeed Cervantes' qualities were such as to win admiration even from the most brutal. In the story of the captive, which forms one of the episodes of Don Quixote, speaking of himself as "a certain Saavedra," he tells us that, in spite of the notoriety of his attempts at escape, his master never treated him harshly, and this notwithstanding the fact that he was accustomed to assume the whole responsibility of these daring enterprises that so often miscarried only through the cowardice or treachery of accomplices.

Rodrigo de Cervantes, the elder brother of Miguel, was ransomed after a comparatively short captivity, and it was partly through his exertions that a sum, the payment of which reduced still further the slight resources of the family, was at last placed in the hands of the devoted Redemptionist Fathers, in order to procure the younger brother's release. This took place in 1580, and towards the end of the same year Cervantes returned to Spain after an absence of ten years, little bettered in fortune or prospects, but bringing with him a fund of experience of the characters and manners of the Algerian corsairs which he afterwards turned to good account in many of his writings. His services and sufferings gained him no promotion - nay, on his release he had to defend himself against enemies who accused him before the commission of the Inquisition, appointed to inquire into the purity of the faith of such prisoners as returned after long residence among Moslems. He again joined the Figueroa regiment, in which, as well as in the Moncada regiment, he had previously served, and during the two years he saw much active service both by land, in the Portuguese campaign, and, by sea, off the Azores. In the campaign his elder brother gained promotion, but no good fortune fell to the lot of Miguel; he never rose above the position of a private soldier. Whilst in Portugal Cervantes gained the affections of a lady of position. She became the mother of his natural daughter and only child, Isabel, who lived to comfort her father's old age, and afterwards became a nun.

The year 1584 brought two important events in our author's life - his marriage and the publication of his first book. Of his wife little is known, for Cervantes does not, like his great rival Lope de Vega, allude in his writings to the domestic happiness which we have reason to believe that he enjoyed. She was younger than her husband, she bore him no children, and shared his many trials to the end of his life. That she was a kindly character may perhaps be inferred from the fact that she allowed his natural daughter to live under the roof in Madrid that sheltered the struggling little family, consisting of herself, her husband, his daughter Isabel, his elder sister Andrea, and her young daughter. The little dower brought by the young wife was not sufficient to keep the wolf from the door when, as happened more than once, Cervantes' characteristic carelessness or the dishonesty of agents brought him into financial troubles.

The work to which we have referred above is the Galatea, a pastoral novel of the same character as the Diana mentioned in another chapter. It is neither better nor worse than other books of the same class, and only here and there does the knowledge we have of its author from other sources enable us to detect some sparkle of his bright wit and quaint humour amid the wearisome monotony of second-rate verse and prose which, though correct and harmonious, is rendered tame by the insipidity of the subject. Introduced into the book, but unconnected with it in subject, is a poetical review, or rather eulogy, of the principal writers of the time, entitled the Canto de Caliope. It is hard to judge whether the extravagant praise here expressed is sincere or ironical, or bestowed merely for the purpose of gaining the favour of those to whom it is addressed. Probably the motive that inspired it was a mixed one partaking of each of these elements. Cervantes knew well the defects of the pastoral novel; he has elsewhere ridiculed the unreal shepherds and their sickly sentiment (Elsewhere in the book - see Note 1), but the Galatea proved successful, and it probably was this success that induced him to adopt literature as a profession, and to become one of the innumerable authors who thronged the approaches to the gate of fame. Literature alone, how ever, would not suffice to provide the little family with the bare necessities of life, and Cervantes obtained a small post under Government, the duties of which included the purchase of provisions for the forces.

In addition to numerous occasional pieces, Cervantes wrote during middle age thirty dramas. The theatre was still in its infancy with only slightly more appliances at its disposal than those above described (Elsewhere in the book - see Note 2). Judging from the only two plays preserved, Cervantes did something towards its development; but his specific claims of having been the first to reduce the number of acts from five to three (the usual number in the Spanish theatre), and to introduce allegorical personages, must be disallowed. Of these two plays the most remarkable is the Numancia, dealing with the siege of that city under Scipio Africanus. It has been praised, perhaps extravagantly, by German critics, but even those who cannot wholly agree with their verdict must admit that the scale on which it is conceived, as well as certain of the scenes are truly grand. A tragedy of the most harrowing kind, its catastrophe is the fall of a city and the massacre of its inhabitants. It lacks almost every essential of dramatic composition, being merely an assemblage of scenes taken from the life of the doomed city, and worked out with glowing imagination, pathos, and warm patriotic feeling. But there is no unity in its plan, no plot, no true conception of the province, limitations, and methods of the drama. It has, however, a special interest for all admirers of the author of Don Quixote, for it is the first work which gives an insight into his genius, and it echoed one of the deepest feelings of the national heart. When Palafox was holding Saragossa against the victorious French armies during the great struggle for Spanish independence, the Numancia was played by the defenders of the beleaguered city in order to recall to the minds of the starving inhabitants what Spaniards had dared and done for the same sacred cause in times gone by. Its glowing verse and reckless patriotism, which at other times might have sounded strained and unnatural, found here a ready appreciation and response. The citizens of Saragossa, more fortunate and not less bold than those of Numancia, drove the besiegers from their gates, and outside their shattered walls, sick, half starved, and wounded, they danced throughout the night in a weird frenzy of joy to the strain of the national jota.

The interest of the other drama, the Trato de Argel (Life in Algiers), is a more narrow one. In it Cervantes attempted to turn to dramatic use his sad experience of a captive's life in the city from which the piece takes its name. Among the characters appears the "Spanish soldier called Saavedra," whose cheerful disposition aided his companions to bear their misfortunes, and whose cool daring so often nearly brought about their escape from bondage. Many of the scenes must have been drawn from the author's personal recollections, and the story-teller's talent does something to relieve the heavy verse, part of which is put into the mouth of the frigid allegorical personages whom, as Cervantes proudly imagined, he had first introduced to the stage which they so awkwardly cumbered.

Even to a successful dramatist-and Cervantes tells us that his plays were favourably received-writing for the stage was not a lucrative profession, unless indeed the playwright were endowed with the marvellous fertility of Lope de Vega, whose fame began to spread about the time when Cervantes turned his attention to a department of literature in which he was better fitted to excel. In 1588, Cervantes was living in Seville. Rinconete y Cortadillo, a story written in picaresque style, and containing many expressions in germania or "thieves' latin", gives the fruit of his observations and a vivid picture of the low and criminal life of the bright city of the Guadalquivir. The descriptions of the organised guild of assassins and pick pockets, with its president, the famous Monipodio, and the school in which artistic thieving was taught, are still unsurpassed by any one of the numerous imitations to which they have given rise. The Novelas Ejemplares, or short stories of which Rinconete y Cortadillo is one of the best, were not published until 1613, when the first part of Don Quixote had already run through several editions. They were probably written at various periods and laid by until their author could find a publisher for them. In them we see Cervantes in many moods, yet always wearing a bold face, although he must often have been driven nearly to despair by adverse fortune. They are the best of all his works with the exception of Don Quixote, and in style, finish, and correctness greatly surpass the master piece. Written in an age in which coarseness of expression was scarcely considered a defect, they are, with the exception of one, the authenticity of which has been disputed, almost entirely unobjectionable on this score. Their range of subject is wide, but they are all scenes from contemporary life.

La Gitanilla, which forms one of the collection, is the simple story of a dancing girl, told with all the charm of Cervantes' narrative style. In the heroine is found, probably for the first time, a character which has since been made use of in almost every literature. Victor Hugo's Esmeralda represents the same untamed yet womanly spirit preserving much of its innate purity amidst the most degrading surroundings. La Gitanilla contains the following praises of gipsy life, probably the finest passage of Cervantes' prose:

Somos señores de los campos, de los sembrados, de las selvas, de los montes de las fuentes y de los ríos: los montes nos ofrecen leña de balde, las árboles frutas, las viñas uvas, las huertas hortaliza, las fuentes agua, los ríos peces, y los vedados caza, sombras las peñas, aire fresco las quiebras, y casa las cuevas: para nosotros las inclemencias del cielo son oreos, refrigerio las nieves, baños la lluvia, músicas los truenos, y hachas los relámpagos: para nosotros son los duros terrenos colchones de blandas plumas: el cuero curtido de nuestros cuerpos nos sirve de arnés impenetrable que nos defiende: á nuestra lijereza no la impiden grillos, ni la detienen barrancos, ni la contrastan paredes: á nuestro ánimo no le tuercen cordeles, ni le menoscaban garruchas, ni le ahogan tocas, ni le doman potros: de sí al no, no hacemos diferencia cuando nos conviene; siempre nos preciamos más de mártires que de confesores: para nosotros se crían las bestias de cargo en los campos, y se cortan las faltriqueras en las ciudades: no hay águila, ni ninguna otra ave de rapiña que más presto se abalance á la presa que se le ofrece, que nosotros nos abalanzamos á las ocasiones que algún interés nos señalen: y finalmente, tenemos muchas habilidades que felice fin nos prometen; porque en la cárcel cantamos, en el potro callamos, de día trabajamos, y de noche hurtamos, y por mejor decir avisamos que nadie viva descuidado de mirar donde pone su hacienda: no nos fatiga el temor de perder la honra, ni nos desvela la ambición del acrecentarla: ni sustentamos bandos, ni madrugamos a dar memoriales, ni a acompañar magnates, ni a solicitar favores: por dorados techos y suntuosos palacios estimamos estas barracas y movibles ranchos: por cuadros y países de Flándes los que nos da la naturaleza en esos levantados riscos y nevadas peñas, tendidos prados y espesos bosques que á cada paso á los ojos se nos muestran: somos astrólogos rústicos, porque como casi siempre dormimos al cielo descubierto, á todas horas sabemos las que son del día y las que son de la noche: . . . un mismo rostro hacemos al sol que al hielo, a la esterilidad que a la abundancia: en conclusión, somos gente que vivimos por nuestra industria y pico, y sin entremeternos con el antiguo refrán, iglesia, ó mar, ó casa real, tenemos lo que queremos, pues nos contentamos con lo que tenemos.

(We are lords of the plains, of the fields, of the forests, of the groves, of the rivers; the groves afford us wood gratis, the trees fruit, the gardens green stuff, the springs water, the rivers fish, and the parks game, the rocks shade, the gorges fresh breezes, and the caves houses: for us the inclemency of the sky is refreshment, the snow coolness, the rain our bath, the thunder music, and the lightning a torch: for us the hard earth is a bed of soft feathers; the tanned leather of our bodies serves us as an impenetrable armour of defence; neither fetters nor precipices check our agility nor do walls confine us; our spirit cannot be bent by bonds nor conquered by the rack, nor stifled by torture, nor vanquished by the block; we distinguish but little between "yes" and "no" when it is to our advantage; out pride is rather to be martyrs than confessors; for us the beasts of burden are bred on the plain, and purses are cut in the cities; no eagle or other bird of prey is more swift to pounce upon the quarry than we to seize the opportunity which may result in our gain: many in short are the arts to which we look for a happy end; for in prison we sing, on the scaffold we are silent, by day we work, by night we steal or, to speak more correctly, we are a warning to men not to mislay their property: neither does the fear of loss of reputation weigh upon us, nor the desire of increasing it keep us awake: party feeling does not trouble us, nor do we rise early to present petitions, or to attend levées or beg for favours: precious to us as gilded roofs and sumptuous palaces are these huts and movable tents; our pictures and Dutch landscapes are those that nature offers in these lofty peaks and snow-covered rocks, broad meadows and deep woods, which we have ever before our eyes; untaught astronomers we are, for, as we almost always sleep under the sky, we can tell the hour by day or by night, . . . neither heat nor cold, want nor plenty affect our mood: in short we are people that live by our own cunning and resource, and little we reck of the old proverb 'the church or the sea, or the King's household,' yet we have what we want for we are content with what we have.)

(The church, the sea, and the King's household were the three professions supposed to be suitable for a gentleman.)

The Coloquio de los Perros (Dialogue of the Dogs) recalls by its title and subject Burns's masterpiece, and, like the Twa Dogs, contains much of the writer's rough and ready practical philosophy of life. Cervantes saw clearly the weaknesses of his fellow-men, but neither their failings nor the harsh treatment which he received at their hands altered the sweet singleness of his character, or spoiled one of the bravest and most chivalrous natures that the world has ever seen.

Cervantes' dreams of advancement, and of gaining an assured position in state employment, were not yet crushed out of him by continual failure. In 1590 he forwarded to Philip II, the king whom he had so well served in subordinate positions, a petition that he might be elected to one of certain offices of minor importance in America, or "the Indies" as it was then called. But he was not well fitted to elbow his way to the throne through the midst of the innumerable place-hunters by whom it was beset. His petition, though not absolutely disregarded, was not granted; he became a tax-gatherer and shortly afterwards suffered three months' imprisonment on account of his inability to refund certain sums that had been entrusted by him to a dishonest person. His fortunes now seemed nearly desperate, but at this juncture occurred the events that first suggested the work by which he is best known.

His duties as a collector of rents brought him to the little town of Argamasilla, situated in the bleak and parched district of La Mancha. Here, for reasons which will probably remain for ever unknown, he aroused the enmity of the authorities. He was for some time imprisoned in the cellar of a house which stands to this day, and which has recently been used for the purpose of printing one of the finest editions of the works of its former tenant. For the wrong thus done him he avenged himself in Don Quixote. The Manchegos are a hardy race, somewhat rougher in manners and exterior than their neighbours, and endowed with a sharp-wittedness that easily degenerates into cunning. They have, however, sterling qualities and frequent flashes of bright imagination. For all their virtues Cervantes gives them full credit. The satire upon their failings, interwoven in the "History of the Ingenious Knight" is far removed from vituperation; the traces of bitter memories are few and far between. Unsuccessful attempts have been repeatedly made to show that the unamiable characters-they are not many-in Don Quixote are real personages. This theory contradicts its author's distinct denial of any such hidden meaning, and his reiterated assertion that his purpose was merely to abolish the absurd and mischievous books of chivalry. Cervantes' satire was not directed against individuals. Against innkeepers, duennas, moriscos, and a certain class of the clergy, he seems indeed to have cherished a grudge, which probably had its origin in dislike to individual members of these classes.

To analyse a book so well known as the "History of the Ingenious Knight" would be worse than useless, for its merits lie rather in its details than in its general plan. A few general observations must be made, for authorities differ widely about the light in which it is to be regarded, and still the controversy rages as to whether it is gay or sad in tendency and how far the author was conscious that he was writing what may be taken to be an allegory of human life. As to the former question it would seem certain that Cervantes' intention was to write a book that should provoke mirth; but he wrote as his heart felt. He had not seen a cheerful side of life, and was already on the verge of old age. He declares more than once that his book is destined to have a world-wide reputation, but we must not attach too much importance to these statements, for Don Quixote is not the only book for which the author prophesied a brilliant future, and, even when its success was assured, "this withered, wrinkled, capricious child of his genius" does not seem to have been his favourite. It is clear also, both from the carelessness which allowed the first part to remain for years without the corrections of which it stood so much in need, and from the tone in which contemporary writers speak of the book, that it was not supposed to be written with any serious purpose. Some of the great men of the time speak slightingly of it, and Lope de Vega, influenced probably by the jealousy which formed so salient a feature of his character, says in a letter, "nobody is silly enough to praise Don Quixote." Even if the allegorical meaning is admitted, it cannot have been this that commended the book to the vulgar and caused its unprecedented success.

At the end of the sixteenth century, literature, with the exception of the drama, had become stereotyped; even the "picaresque" novel was losing its freshness, and as yet no genius had sprung up to create a new form. How popular the romances of chivalry had been is proved by the extraordinarily intimate knowledge of a great number of them possessed by Cervantes himself. But this popularity was on the wane, and while admitting that it was Don Quixote who gave the death-blow to the "innumerable lineage of Ámadis," it is impossible to attribute solely to his influence the fact that after his appearance no single book of this kind was written or reprinted. The real secret of the contemporary success of Don Quixote is to be found in the fact that the great body of authors had lost touch with the public; they wrote on certain conventional lines in order to gain mutual commendations and laudatory sonnets. Cervantes' venture brought to the general reader what he wanted, and he refused any longer to be amused according to the goodwill and pleasure of a literary class. Cervantes copied his characters from life, and from types that were common in his own day; they bear strongly the impress of their time and country, but behind lie the motives and passions that have swayed men in all ages. Don Quixote himself was not meant to represent a pure and noble character battling with a world that did not understand it. It author's experience had taught him that in this world nothing is utterly bad, and nothing is thoroughly good. It seems impossible to ignore the fact that his hero is sometimes grotesque and almost pitiable, and that his creator takes delight in the buffetings he receives. No amount of minute study of its pages can hope to discover the secret of this great book, for it is all things to all men, reflecting continually the mood of the reader, and conveying to him more or less meaning according to his mental capacity. Even so the Spanish peasant sings:

En este mundo, señores,
No hay ni verdad ni mentira,
Que todo está en el color
Del cristal con que se mira.

The first part of Don Quixote gave to its author fame, but little, if any, pecuniary profit. The Duke of Bejar, to whom it was dedicated, allowed him to languish in poverty. He followed the court from Madrid to Valladolid under Felipe III, and an insight is given into his private affairs during his residence in the latter city by the depositions in a murder case in which he and other members of his household appeared as witnesses. From these we learn that he "wrote and negotiated affairs," and that his womenfolk contributed with needlework to the maintenance of the family. What the nature of the "affairs" was we do not know; as for the writing, it seems likely that his pen employed its bold firm characters in copying legal documents. Cervantes had now established his reputation as a literary man, but the attention he received took the form rather of malignant attacks prompted by jealousy, than of acceptance into the ranks of the great authors of the age. He had certainly his friends, but with Lope de Vega and Góngora, the idols of the time, against him, his chance of an impartial judgment was small indeed. Those who attacked him had more interest in undermining his reputation than friends, such as Quevedo and the Argensolas, had in defending it. At any rate he seems now to have had no difficulty in finding publishers for his works, for it was during the years 1613 to 1615 that the first editions of the Novelas Ejemplares, Viage del Parnaso, and the Comedias appeared. Of the Novelas, for which their author claims, with some show of reason, the distinction of being the first specimens in Castilian of the novel of adventure, a brief mention has already been made. In the Voyage to Parnassus Cervantes once more sought the favour of the poetic muse whom he had so often wooed, and who had so seldom proved kind. In this long poem only here and there does she vouchsafe a smile to her old admirer. Its general plan is, with candid acknowledgments, taken from a book bearing the same title by Caporali, an Italian poet of secondary merit. The author, appealed to by Apollo for help, calls together the good poets for the purpose of driving out the poetasters from the Hill of the Muses. Cervantes had already given proof of his fondness for indulging in mild and generally laudatory criticism in the Canto de Caliope, in Don Quixote, and elsewhere. His good nature precluded a candid judgment of contemporary merit; moreover serious criticism, if it took an adverse form, would have been considered a breach of good manners in the age in which he lived. He bestows what seems to us extravagant praise with equal lavishness upon good and upon second-rate authors. He redeems his poem from monotony by flashes of quaint rich fancy, and by a sly irony which was the only weapon that the kind heart allowed itself to use even against those who had wounded it most brutally. So much for its literary worth. To all lovers of its writer, to those who know him aright and who seek in his works the brave, generous and chivalrous nature that inspired them, the Viage del Parnaso will always be most precious. With the exception of of his last work, it is the one in which we learn most of himself, his ideals, his aspirations, and the long struggle that so seldom wrung from him a bitter word.

The six Comedias wherewith Cervantes for the second time sought to gain a place among the ever increasing crowd of playwrights, by whom the theatre was beset, are of slight merit; they are never acted and seldom read; even their author did not value them highly. Not so the six farces which appeared together with them. These are written to suit the popular taste, and in more natural tone than the comedies; their humour is coarser than is general with Cervantes. In their sprightly and rapid movement, and in their artless simplicity of form, they recall the work of Lope de Rueda, whom Cervantes had seen and admired many years before. The scenes, too, of some of them are such as their author knew better than the haunts of the cloaked and sworded gallants after whom the class of dramas that deal with the minor nobility (hidalgos) is named. Cervantes had not Quevedo's perverse leaning towards low life, but he was thoroughly intimate with the habits and ways of thinking of the poorer classes, and could treat them with tenderness and delicacy. The creator of Maritornes had indeed wide sympathies.

The profits of the first part of Don Quixote had gone into the pockets of the booksellers, both those to whom it belonged and those who, as frequently happened, brought out pirated editions. Whether Cervantes, on concluding it, intended to publish a second part is uncertain, for his final words are ambiguous. Success encouraged him, and he set to work. When his continuation was already partly written, and had been announced in the preface to the novels, there appeared a spurious second part published at Tarragona, bearing on its title-page the probably fictitious name of Avellaneda. Who its author was will probably never be known, but we may infer from passages of his book that he was a churchman, and a friend and admirer of Lope de Vega, between whom and Cervantes there existed a feud of long standing. In this literary quarrel Lope's "universal jealousy," well known to his contemporaries, had caused him occasionally to play a mean and ungenerous part, though at other times he made amends, once even ranking his great rival as equal in wisdom to "Cicero and Juan de Mena." (Premio del bien hablar) Guided by these slight indications, an English Cervantist of the highest merit has started a theory that the book was written by the great dramatist himself, or, at least with his knowledge and consent, and that its purpose was deliberately to spoil Cervantes' work and bring its author into contempt. Of neither view have we sufficient proof. Mr. Watts' ingenuity and industry, backed by intimate knowledge of the literary history of the time, fail to trace the forgery to Lope whom he apparently dislikes as much as he loves Cervantes. It may be admitted that the author of the spurious second part utterly failed to grasp the spirit of the story he attempted to continue, and that his book does not in bear comparison with that of Cervantes, against whom his animosity continually breaks out in personal attacks in the worst possible taste. But Avellaneda was not the first in Spain to attempt to take an unfair advantage of another's literary success, and it was not to be expected that the same age should produce two geniuses capable of writing Don Quixote. The spurious second part is neither better nor worse, nor indeed more indecent, than the generality of "picaresque" stories. If we could be sure that Cervantes had but one enemy, we might safely attribute Avellaneda's book to Lope de Vega.

In 1615 appeared the genuine second part, and in it Cervantes with perfect good temper and dignity retaliates for the great wrong that had been done him, and the brutal personal attack. The real Sancho, overflowing with an increased fund of proverbs, treats his counterfeit with the contempt he deserves, and Avellaneda and his work are pulled to pieces in most masterly style. But the second part has not the freshness of the first. It is more studied, more correct, and more artificial. Its only rival in its own line is the first part; the broad humour, the wit, and the pathos are the same, but the unconscious light-heartedness is gone, and here and there the author, now nearly seventy years of age, seems to grow a little weary; the characters, which have developed since the book began, are here stereotyped, and we cannot help regretting the day when knight and squire first sallied forth discoursing pleasantly, with the whole world before them, and seeking the unknown adventures which were to bring out their strongly-contrasted individuality.

But the second part of Don Quixote was thoroughly successful, and Cervantes was now held in great esteem. He was still very poor, but to that he was accustomed. After fifty years of effort his genius was at last appreciated, and his head was full of literary projects, including a second part of the Galatea, which still held a high place in his affections. This book was never written, but Cervantes lived to finish his Pérsiles y Sigismunda, struggling to beat back fast-approaching death until it should be completed. It had been in hand for some time, and he said that it would be "either the best or the worst book of entertainment in Spanish." It is neither. Pérsiles and Sigismunda are lovers to whom the fates are adverse, and who roam about the world somewhat aimlessly until at last they are happily united. The chronology and geography of the book are intentionally hazy; the changes of scene are so rapid, the characters and their adventures so numerous, and the plot so complicated, that it reads rather like the argument of a book than a complete story. This wealth of imagination in a man so old, worn, and broken, is indeed astonishing. For Cervantes was now near his end; his disease, as he well knew, was dropsy, but he worked on till the last, brave and unrepining. Three weeks before his death he penned the touching dedication of his last work to the Count of Lemos, the same to whom he had addressed the second part of Don Quixote. In the Prologue, one of the most characteristic passages of his whole works, he had already bid good-bye to life with cheerful resignation in the simple words:

"Good bye to quips; good-bye to cranks; good-bye to light-hearted friends; for I am a-dying, and longing to meet you soon in the happiness of another life."

(Adiós, gracias; adiós, donaires; adiós, regocijados amigos, que yo me voy muriendo y deseando veros presto contentos en la otra vida.)

On the 19th of April he passed away, within ten days of the date of the death of Shakespeare.

That all his life he had been a faithful son of the Church is made abundantly certain in his writings, in spite of the inferences that bigotry has attempted to draw from his slighting words about ecclesiastics of a certain kind, and from the fact that the Inquisition at its worst period found excuse for defacing some of his works. Before the end he assumed the habit of St. Francis according to the custom of his age and country. He was buried by his own request according to the simple rite of his order, in the Trinitarian convent in which his daughter had taken the veil. When the nuns changed their quarters, his bones were removed, along with others, so that they are no longer distinguishable.

Looking back on his great work we try to explain the charm which it possesses for high and low, rich and poor, learned and simple. In it we find no model of literature, no splendour of style; nay, the writing is often careless and slipshod. Surely the truth is that Cervantes and his work interest humanity because he and, consequently, it are so intensely human; because he neither railed at nor eulogised his fellow-men, but wrote of them as one who felt in himself the germ of all their failings, and all their virtues; and thus the love he bore his kind is returned to him in full. The interest of Don Quixote is the same as that afforded by the study of human nature and the conditions under which we live; in both are found the same inexplicable contrasts and contradictions between higher aspirations and uncompromisingly brutal realities; in both but a hair's breadth separates the sublime from the ridiculous. Sad it is to think how those of his own time failed to appreciate the supreme courage of this war-worn and broken soldier, with "aquiline profile, chestnut hair, smooth and unwrinkled brow, bright eyes, and silvery beard," (See the Prologue to the Novelas Ejemplares) who with uncomplaining cheerfulness bore poverty, neglect, and the harsh treatment of his fellows, and as a token of great-hearted forgiveness left behind him one of the world's treasures, a book that will laugh with the gay and light-hearted, will weep with the despondent, afford pleasure to the most foolish, and food for thought even to the wisest. (See the Prologue to Don Quixote)


Note 1

It is certain that Cervantes clearly saw the weakness of this artificial kind of composition, for elsewhere he (Coloquio de los Perros) contrasts the rustic songs and coarse manners of the shepherds of reality, who in Spain are sometimes little better than savages, with the airs and graces of the shepherds of the pastoral novels, and concludes by saying that "all these books are pure imagination, and are written for the amusement of the idle, but without a particle of truth in them."

Note 2

It will be well to touch on the position of actors, their way of life, and the primitive costumes, scenes, and property at their disposal. On these particulars abundant information is contained in the works of contemporary writers. Cervantes, in the preface to his own plays, (Comedias y Entremeses, 1749) speaks of his immediate predecessor Lope de Rueda, saying:

"In the time of this celebrated Spanish actor, the whole apparatus of an autor was contained in a sack, and consisted of four white sheepskins trimmed with gilt leather, together with four false beards and wigs, and four shepherd's crooks, more or less. . . . There were no figures to come popping up from the centre of the earth, or the space beneath the stage. The stage itself was composed of four benches, forming a square, with four or six planks placed upon them, so as to be raised about four handsbreadths from the ground. Much less did clouds containing angels or spirits come down from the sky. The back scene of the theatre consisted of an old blanket which could be pulled by cords to one side or the other, and this formed the green-room, behind which stood the musicians singing some old ballad, without even a guitar to accompany them. . . . After Lope de Rueda, came Naharro, a native of Toledo, who was famous in the part of cowardly bully. He somewhat raised the standard of theatrical adornment, exchanging the sack which used to contain the dresses, for chests and trunks. He brought out the musicians who formerly sang behind the blanket, to the public gaze; he also abolished the beards of the comic actors, for, up to that time, nobody played without a false beard, and he made them all play without preliminary adjustment; except those who had to represent old men, or other parts which required a change of features. He it was who introduced machinery, clouds, thunder and lightning, duels, and battles, but all this had not yet come to the pitch of perfection which it has reached nowadays."

(En el tiempo de este célebre Español, todos los aparatos de un Autor de Comedias se encerraban en un costal, y se cifraban en cuatro pellicos blancos guarnecidos de guadamecí dorado; y en cuatro barbas y cabelleras, y quatro cayados, poco más ó menos. . . No havía figura que saliesse ó pareciesse salir del centro de la tierra por lo hueco del Theatro, al qual componían quatro bancos en quadro y quatro ó seis tablas encima, con que se levantaba del suelo quatro palmos; ni menos baxaban del Cielo nubes con Angeles ó con almas. El adorno del Theatro era una manta vieja, tirada con dos cordeles de una parte á otra, que hacía lo que llaman vestuario, detras de la qual estaban los Músicos cantando sin guitarra algun romance antiguo. . . . Succedió a Lope de Rueda, Naharro, natural de Toledo, el qua! fué famoso en hacer la figura de un rufián cobarde. Este levantó algún tanto más el adorno de las Comedias, y mudó el costal de vestidos en cofres y en baules: sacó la música que antes cantaba detras de la manta, al Theatro público: quito las barbas de los Farsantes, que hasta entonces ninguno representaba sin barba postiza; y hizo que todos representassen á cureña rasa, sino era los que havían de representar los viejos, ú otras figuras que pidiessen mudanza de rostro: inventó tramoyas, nubes, truenos y relámpagos, desafíos y batallas; pero esto no llegó al sublime punto en que está ahora.)

Author's Preface to Don Quixote

Idle reader: thou mayest believe me without any oath that I would this book, as it is the child of my brain, were the fairest, gayest, and cleverest that could be imagined. But I could not counteract Nature's law that everything shall beget its like; and what, then, could this sterile, illtilled wit of mine beget but the story of a dry, shrivelled, whimsical offspring, full of thoughts of all sorts and such as never came into any other imagination- just what might be begotten in a prison, where every misery is lodged and every doleful sound makes its dwelling? Tranquillity, a cheerful retreat, pleasant fields, bright skies, murmuring brooks, peace of mind, these are the things that go far to make even the most barren muses fertile, and bring into the world births that fill it with wonder and delight. Sometimes when a father has an ugly, loutish son, the love he bears him so blindfolds his eyes that he does not see his defects, or, rather, takes them for gifts and charms of mind and body, and talks of them to his friends as wit and grace. I, however- for though I pass for the father, I am but the stepfather to "Don Quixote"- have no desire to go with the current of custom, or to implore thee, dearest reader, almost with tears in my eyes, as others do, to pardon or excuse the defects thou wilt perceive in this child of mine. Thou art neither its kinsman nor its friend, thy soul is thine own and thy will as free as any man's, whate'er he be, thou art in thine own house and master of it as much as the king of his taxes and thou knowest the common saying, "Under my cloak I kill the king;" all which exempts and frees thee from every consideration and obligation, and thou canst say what thou wilt of the story without fear of being abused for any ill or rewarded for any good thou mayest say of it.

My wish would be simply to present it to thee plain and unadorned, without any embellishment of preface or uncountable muster of customary sonnets, epigrams, and eulogies, such as are commonly put at the beginning of books. For I can tell thee, though composing it cost me some labour, I found none greater than the making of this Preface thou art now reading. Many times did I take up my pen to write it and many did I lay it down again, not knowing what to write. One of these times, as I was pondering with the paper before me, a pen in my ear, my elbow on the desk, and my cheek in my hand, thinking of what I should say, there came in unexpectedly a certain lively, clever friend of mine, who, seeing me so deep in thought, asked the reason; to which I, making no mystery of it, answered that I was thinking of the Preface I had to make for the story of "Don Quixote," which so troubled me that I had a mind not to make any at all, nor even publish the achievements of so noble a knight.

"For, how could you expect me not to feel uneasy about what that ancient lawgiver they call the Public will say when it sees me, after slumbering so many years in the silence of oblivion, coming out now with all my years upon my back, and with a book as dry as a rush, devoid of invention, meagre in style, poor in thoughts, wholly wanting in learning and wisdom, without quotations in the margin or annotations at the end, after the fashion of other books I see, which, though all fables and profanity, are so full of maxims from Aristotle, and Plato, and the whole herd of philosophers, that they fill the readers with amazement and convince them that the authors are men of learning, erudition, and eloquence. And then, when they quote the Holy Scriptures!- anyone would say they are St. Thomases or other doctors of the Church, observing as they do a decorum so ingenious that in one sentence they describe a distracted lover and in the next deliver a devout little sermon that it is a pleasure and a treat to hear and read. Of all this there will be nothing in my book, for I have nothing to quote in the margin or to note at the end, and still less do I know what authors I follow in it, to place them at the beginning, as all do, under the letters A, B, C, beginning with Aristotle and ending with Xenophon, or Zoilus, or Zeuxis, though one was a slanderer and the other a painter. Also my book must do without sonnets at the beginning, at least sonnets whose authors are dukes, marquises, counts, bishops, ladies, or famous poets. Though if I were to ask two or three obliging friends, I know they would give me them, and such as the productions of those that have the highest reputation in our Spain could not equal.

"In short, my friend," I continued, "I am determined that Senor Don Quixote shall remain buried in the archives of his own La Mancha until Heaven provide some one to garnish him with all those things he stands in need of; because I find myself, through my shallowness and want of learning, unequal to supplying them, and because I am by nature shy and careless about hunting for authors to say what I myself can say without them. Hence the cogitation and abstraction you found me in, and reason enough, what you have heard from me."

Hearing this, my friend, giving himself a slap on the forehead and breaking into a hearty laugh, exclaimed, "Before God, Brother, now am I disabused of an error in which I have been living all this long time I have known you, all through which I have taken you to be shrewd and sensible in all you do; but now I see you are as far from that as the heaven is from the earth. It is possible that things of so little moment and so easy to set right can occupy and perplex a ripe wit like yours, fit to break through and crush far greater obstacles? By my faith, this comes, not of any want of ability, but of too much indolence and too little knowledge of life. Do you want to know if I am telling the truth? Well, then, attend to me, and you will see how, in the opening and shutting of an eye, I sweep away all your difficulties, and supply all those deficiencies which you say check and discourage you from bringing before the world the story of your famous Don Quixote, the light and mirror of all knight-errantry."

"Say on," said I, listening to his talk; "how do you propose to make up for my diffidence, and reduce to order this chaos of perplexity I am in?"

To which he made answer, "Your first difficulty about the sonnets, epigrams, or complimentary verses which you want for the beginning, and which ought to be by persons of importance and rank, can be removed if you yourself take a little trouble to make them; you can afterwards baptise them, and put any name you like to them, fathering them on Prester John of the Indies or the Emperor of Trebizond, who, to my knowledge, were said to have been famous poets: and even if they were not, and any pedants or bachelors should attack you and question the fact, never care two maravedis for that, for even if they prove a lie against you they cannot cut off the hand you wrote it with.

"As to references in the margin to the books and authors from whom you take the aphorisms and sayings you put into your story, it is only contriving to fit in nicely any sentences or scraps of Latin you may happen to have by heart, or at any rate that will not give you much trouble to look up; so as, when you speak of freedom and captivity, to insert

Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro;

and then refer in the margin to Horace, or whoever said it; or, if you allude to the power of death, to come in with - Pallida mors Aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas, Regumque turres.

If it be friendship and the love God bids us bear to our enemy, go at once to the Holy Scriptures, which you can do with a very small amount of research, and quote no less than the words of God himself:

Ego autem dico vobis: diligite inimicos vestros.

If you speak of evil thoughts, turn to the Gospel:

De corde exeunt cogitationes malae.

If of the fickleness of friends, there is Cato, who will give you his distich:

Donec eris felix multos numerabis amicos, Tempora si fuerint nubila, solus eris.

With these and such like bits of Latin they will take you for a grammarian at all events, and that now-a-days is no small honour and profit.

"With regard to adding annotations at the end of the book, you may safely do it in this way. If you mention any giant in your book contrive that it shall be the giant Goliath, and with this alone, which will cost you almost nothing, you have a grand note, for you can put: 'The giant Golias or Goliath was a Philistine whom the shepherd David slew by a mighty stone-cast in the Terebinth valley, as is related in the Book of Kings' - in the chapter where you find it written.

"Next, to prove yourself a man of erudition in polite literature and cosmography, manage that the river Tagus shall be named in your story, and there you are at once with another famous annotation, setting forth- The river Tagus was so called after a King of Spain: it has its source in such and such a place and falls into the ocean, kissing the walls of the famous city of Lisbon, and it is a common belief that it has golden sands, &c. If you should have anything to do with robbers, I will give you the story of Cacus, for I have it by heart; if with loose women, there is the Bishop of Mondonedo, who will give you the loan of Lamia, Laida, and Flora, any reference to whom will bring you great credit; if with hard-hearted ones, Ovid will furnish you with Medea; if with witches or enchantresses, Homer has Calypso, and Virgil Circe; if with valiant captains, Julius Caesar himself will lend you himself in his own 'Commentaries,' and Plutarch will give you a thousand Alexanders. If you should deal with love, with two ounces you may know of Tuscan you can go to Leon the Hebrew, who will supply you to your heart's content; or if you should not care to go to foreign countries you have at home Fonseca's 'Of the Love of God,' in which is condensed all that you or the most imaginative mind can want on the subject. In short, all you have to do is to manage to quote these names, or refer to these stories I have mentioned, and leave it to me to insert the annotations and quotations, and I swear by all that's good to fill your margins and use up four sheets at the end of the book.

"Now let us come to those references to authors which other books have, and you want for yours. The remedy for this is very simple: You have only to look out for some book that quotes them all, from A to Z as you say yourself, and then insert the very same alphabet in your book, and though the imposition may be plain to see, because you have so little need to borrow from them, that is no matter; there will probably be some simple enough to believe that you have made use of them all in this plain, artless story of yours. At any rate, if it answers no other purpose, this long catalogue of authors will serve to give a surprising look of authority to your book. Besides, no one will trouble himself to verify whether you have followed them or whether you have not, being no way concerned in it; especially as, if I mistake not, this book of yours has no need of any one of those things you say it wants, for it is, from beginning to end, an attack upon the books of chivalry, of which Aristotle never dreamt, nor St. Basil said a word, nor Cicero had any knowledge; nor do the niceties of truth nor the observations of astrology come within the range of its fanciful vagaries; nor have geometrical measurements or refutations of the arguments used in rhetoric anything to do with it; nor does it mean to preach to anybody, mixing up things human and divine, a sort of motley in which no Christian understanding should dress itself. It has only to avail itself of truth to nature in its composition, and the more perfect the imitation the better the work will be. And as this piece of yours aims at nothing more than to destroy the authority and influence which books of chivalry have in the world and with the public, there is no need for you to go a-begging for aphorisms from philosophers, precepts from Holy Scripture, fables from poets, speeches from orators, or miracles from saints; but merely to take care that your style and diction run musically, pleasantly, and plainly, with clear, proper, and well-placed words, setting forth your purpose to the best of your power, and putting your ideas intelligibly, without confusion or obscurity. Strive, too, that in reading your story the melancholy may be moved to laughter, and the merry made merrier still; that the simple shall not be wearied, that the judicious shall admire the invention, that the grave shall not despise it, nor the wise fail to praise it. Finally, keep your aim fixed on the destruction of that ill-founded edifice of the books of chivalry, hated by some and praised by many more; for if you succeed in this you will have achieved no small success."

In profound silence I listened to what my friend said, and his observations made such an impression on me that, without attempting to question them, I admitted their soundness, and out of them I determined to make this Preface; wherein, gentle reader, thou wilt perceive my friend's good sense, my good fortune in finding such an adviser in such a time of need, and what thou hast gained in receiving, without addition or alteration, the story of the famous Don Quixote of La Mancha, who is held by all the inhabitants of the district of the Campo de Montiel to have been the chastest lover and the bravest knight that has for many years been seen in that neighbourhood. I have no desire to magnify the service I render thee in making thee acquainted with so renowned and honoured a knight, but I do desire thy thanks for the acquaintance thou wilt make with the famous Sancho Panza, his squire, in whom, to my thinking, I have given thee condensed all the squirely drolleries that are scattered through the swarm of the vain books of chivalry. And so may God give thee health, and not forget me. Vale.



In belief of the good reception and honours that Your Excellency bestows on all sort of books, as prince so inclined to favour good arts, chiefly those who by their nobleness do not submit to the service and bribery of the vulgar, I have determined bringing to light The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of la Mancha, in shelter of Your Excellency's glamorous name, to whom, with the obeisance I owe to such grandeur, I pray to receive it agreeably under his protection, so that in this shadow, though deprived of that precious ornament of elegance and erudition that clothe the works composed in the houses of those who know, it dares appear with assurance in the judgment of some who, trespassing the bounds of their own ignorance, use to condemn with more rigour and less justice the writings of others. It is my earnest hope that Your Excellency's good counsel, in regard to my honourable purpose, will not disdain the littleness of so humble a service.

Miguel de Cervantes

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