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Miguel Cervantes


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Persiles a Sigismunda - de Miguel Cervantes


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When we reflect upon the great celebrity of the "Life, Exploits, and Adventures of that ingenious Gentleman, Don Quixote de la Mancha," and how his name has become quite proverbial amongst us, it seems strange that so little should be known concerning the great man to whose imagination we are indebted for so amusing and instructive a tale. We cannot better introduce our present edition than by a short sketch of his life, adding a few remarks on the work itself and the present adapted reprint of it.

The obscurity we have alluded to is one which Cervantes shares with many others, some of them the most illustrious authors which the world ever produced. Homer, Hesiod,—names with which the mouths of men have been familiar for centuries,—how little is now known of them! And not only so, but how little was known of them even by those who lived comparatively close upon their own time! How scattered and unsatisfactory are the few particulars which we have of the life of our own poet William Shakspere!

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born at Alcala de Henares, a town of New Castile, famous for its University, founded by Cardinal Ximenes. He was of gentle birth, both on his father's and mother's side. Rodrigo de Cervantes, his father, was descended from an ancient family of Galicia, of which several branches were settled in some of the principal cities of Spain. His mother's name was Leonora de Cortēnas. We find by the parish register of Santa Maria la Mayor, at Alcala de Henares, that Miguel was baptised in that church on Sunday, the 9th of October, 1547; in which year we may conclude, therefore, that he was born. The discovery of this baptismal register set at rest a dispute which had for some time been going on between seven different cities, each [Pg xiv] of which claimed the honour of being the native place of our author: these were, besides the one already mentioned, Seville, Madrid, Esquivias, Toledo, Lucena, and Alcazar de San Juan. In this respect we cannot avoid drawing a comparison between the fame of Cervantes and the prince of poets, Homer.

From a child he discovered a great liking for books, which no doubt determined his parents, whose fortune, notwithstanding their good family, was any thing but affluent, to educate him for one of the learned professions, by which alone at that time there was any chance of getting wealth. Miguel, however, did not take to the strict studies proposed to him: not that he was idle; his days were spent in reading books of amusement, such as novels, romances, and poems. It was of the materials afforded by such a pursuit that his fame was afterwards built.

Cervantes continued at Madrid till he was in his twenty-first year, during which time he remained with his learned tutor Juan Lopez de Hoyos. He seems to have been a great favourite with him; for, in a collection of "Luctus," published by Juan on the death of the Queen, we find an elegy and a ballad contributed by the editor's "dear and beloved disciple Miguel de Cervantes." Under the same editorial care Cervantes himself tells us, in his Viage de Parnasso, that he published a pastoral poem of some length, called 'Filena,' besides several ballads, sonnets, canzonets, and other small poems.

Notwithstanding the comparative insignificance of these productions, they probably excited some little attention; for it appears not unlikely that it was to them that Cervantes owed his appointment to an office, which we find him holding, in 1569, at Rome,—that of chamberlain to his eminence the Cardinal Julio Aquaviva, an ecclesiastic of considerable learning. Such an appointment, however, did not suit the active disposition and romantic turn of one so deeply read in the adventures of the old knights, the glory of which he longed to share; from which hope, however, the inactivity and monotony of a court-life could not but exclude him.

In 1571 there was concluded a famous league between Pope Pius V., Philip II. of Spain, and the Venetian Republic, against Selim, the Grand Turk, who was attacking Cyprus, then belonging to Venice. John of Austria, natural son of the celebrated Emperor Charles V., and brother of the king of Spain, was made commander-in-chief of the allied forces, both naval and military; and under him, as general of the Papal forces, was appointed Mario Antonio Colonna, Duke of Paliano. It became fashionable for the young men of the time to enlist in this expedition; and Cervantes, then about twenty-four years of age, soon enrolled himself under the standard of the Roman general. After various success on both sides, in which the operations of the Christians were not a little hindered by the dissensions of their commanders, to which the taking of Nicosia by the Turks may be imputed, the first year's cruise ended with the famous battle of Lepanto; after which the allied forces retired, and wintered at Messina.

Cervantes was present at this famous victory, where he was wounded in the left hand by a blow from a scymitar, or, as some assert, by a gunshot, so severely, that he was obliged to have it amputated at the wrist whilst in the hospital at Messina; but the operation was so unskilfully performed, that he lost the use of the entire arm ever afterwards. He was not discouraged by this wound, nor induced to give up his profession [Pg xv] as a soldier. Indeed, he seems, from his own words, to be very proud of the honour which his loss conferred upon him. "My wound," he says, "was received on the most glorious occasion that any age, past or present, ever saw, or that the future can ever hope to see. To those who barely behold them, indeed, my wounds may not seem honourable; it is by those who know how I came by them that they will be rightly esteemed. Better is it for a soldier to die in battle than to save his life by running away. For my part I had rather be again present, were it possible, in that famous battle, than whole and sound without sharing ill the glory of it. The scars which a soldier exhibits in his breast and face are stars to guide others to the haven of honour and the love of just praise."

The year following the victory of Lepanto, Cervantes still continued with the same fleet, and took part in several attacks on the coast of the Morea. At the end of 1572, when the allied forces were disbanded, Colonna returned to Rome, whither our author probably accompanied him, since he tells us that he followed his "conquering banners." He afterwards enlisted in the Neapolitan army of the king of Spain, in which he remained for three years, though without rising above the rank of a private soldier; but it must be remembered that, at the time of which we are now speaking, such was the condition of some of the noblest men of their country; it was accounted no disgrace for even a scion of the nobility to fight as a simple halberdier, or musqueteer, in the service of his prince.

On the 26th of September, 1575, Cervantes embarked on board a galley, called the 'Sun,' and was sailing from Naples to Spain, when his ship was attacked by some Moorish corsairs, and both he and all the rest of the crew were taken prisoners, and carried off to Algiers. When the Christians were divided amongst their captors, he fell to the lot of the captain, the famous Arnauté Mami, an Albanian renegade, whose atrocious cruelties are too disgusting to be mentioned. He seems to have treated his captive with peculiar harshness, perhaps hoping that by so doing he might render him the more impatient of his servitude, and so induce him to pay a higher ransom, which the rank and condition of his friends in Europe appeared to promise. In this state Cervantes continued five years. Some have thought that in "the captive's" tale, related in Don Quixote, we may collect the particulars of his own fortunes whilst in Africa; but even granting that some of the incidents may be the same, it is now generally supposed that we shall be deceived if we regard them as any detailed account of his captivity. A man of Cervantes' enterprise and abilities was not likely to endure tamely the hardships of slavery; and we accordingly find that he was constantly forming schemes for escape. The last of these, which was the most bold and best contrived of all, failed, because he had admitted a traitor to a share in his project.

There was at Algiers a Venetian renegade, named Hassan Aga, a friend of Arnauté Mami; he had risen high in the king's favour, and occupied an important post in the government of Algiers. We have a description of this man's ferocious character in Don Quixote, given us by the Captain de Viedma. Cervantes was often sent by his master as messenger to this man's house, situated on the sea-shore, at a short distance from Algiers. One of Hassan's slaves, a native of Navarre, and a Christian, had the management of the gardens of the villa; and with him Cervantes soon formed an acquaintance, and succeeded in persuading [Pg xvi] him to allow the making of a secret cave under the garden, which would form a place of concealment for himself and fifteen of his fellow captives, on whom he could rely. When the cavern was finished, the adventurers made their escape by night from Algiers, and took up their quarters in it. Of course an alarm was raised when they were missing; but, although a most strict search after the fugitives was made, both by their masters and by Ochali, then despot of Algiers, here they lay hid for several months, being supplied with food by the gardener and another Christian slave, named El Dorador.

One of their companions, named Viana, a gentleman of Minorca, had been left behind them, so that he might bear a more active part in the escape of the whole party. A sum of money was to be raised for his ransom, and then he was to go to Europe and return with a ship in which Cervantes and his friends, including the gardener and El Dorador, were to embark on an appointed night, and so get back to their country. Viana obtained his liberty in September 1577, and having reached Minorca in safety, he easily procured a ship and came off the coast of Barbary, according to the pre-concerted plan; but before he could land, he was seen by the Moorish sentry, who raised an alarm and obliged him to put out to sea again, lest he should by coming too close attract attention to the cavern. This was a sore disappointment to Cervantes and his companions, who witnessed it all from their retreat. Still knowing Viana's courage and constancy, they had yet hopes of his returning and again endeavouring to get them off. And this he most probably would have done had it not been for the treachery at which we hinted above. El Dorador just at this time thought fit to turn renegade; and of course he could not begin his infidel career better than by infamously betraying his former friends. In consequence of his information Hassan Aga surrounded the entrance to the cave with a sufficient force to make any attempt at resistance utterly unavailing, and the sixteen poor prisoners were dragged out and conveyed in chains to Algiers. The former attempts which he made to escape caused Cervantes to be instantly fixed on as the contriver and ringleader of this plot; and therefore, whilst the other fifteen were sent back to their masters to be punished as they thought fit, he was detained by the king himself, who hoped through him to obtain further information, and so implicate the other Christians, and perhaps also some of the renegades. Even had he possessed any such information, which most likely he did not, Cervantes was certainly the very last man to give it: notwithstanding various examinations and threats, he still persisted in asserting that he was the sole contriver of the plot, till at length, by his firmness, he fairly exhausted the patience of Ochali. Had Hassan had his way, Cervantes would have been strangled as an example to all Christians who should hereafter try to run away from their captivity, and the king himself was not unwilling to please him in this matter; but then he was not their property, and Mami, to whom he belonged, would not consent to lose a slave whom he considered to be worth at least two hundred crowns. Thus did the avarice of a renegade save the future author of Don Quixote from being strangled with the bowstring. Some of the particulars of this affair are given us by Cervantes himself; but others are collected from Father Haedo, the contemporary author of a history of Barbary. "Most wonderful thing," says the worthy priest, "that some of these gentlemen remained shut up in the cavern for five, six, even for seven months, without even so much as seeing the light of day; and all the time they were [Pg xvii] sustained only by Miguel de Cervantes, and that too at the great and continual risk of his own life; no less than four times did he incur the nearest danger of being burnt alive, impaled, or strangled, on account of the bold things which he dared in hopes of bestowing liberty upon many. Had his fortune corresponded to his spirit, skill, and industry, Algiers might at this day have been in the possession of the Christians, for his designs aspired to no less lofty a consummation. In the end, the whole affair was treacherously discovered; and the gardener, after being tortured and picketed, perished miserably. But, in truth, of the things which happened in that cave during the seven months that it was inhabited by these Christians, and altogether of the captivity and various enterprises of Miguel de Cervantes, a particular history might easily be formed. Hassan Aga was wont to say that, 'could he but be sure of that handless Spaniard, he should consider captives, barks, and the whole city of Algiers in perfect safety.'"

And Ochali seems to have been of the same opinion; for he did not consider it safe to leave so dangerous a character as Cervantes in private hands, and so we accordingly find that he himself bought him of Mami, and then kept him closely confined in a dungeon in his own palace, with the utmost cruelty. It is probable, however, that the extreme hardship of Cervantes' case did really contribute to his liberation. He found means of applying to Spain for his redemption; and in consequence his mother and sister (the former of whom had now become a widow, and the latter, Donna Andrea de Cervantes, was married to a Florentine gentleman named Ambrosio) raised the sum of two hundred and fifty crowns, to which a friend of the family, one Francisco Caramambel, contributed fifty more. This sum was paid into the hands of Father Juan Gil and Father Antonio de la Vella Trinitarios, brethren of the 'Society for the Redemption of Slaves,'[1] who immediately set to work to ransom Cervantes. His case was, however, a hard one; for the king asked a thousand crowns for his freedom; and the negotiation on this head caused a long delay, but was at last brought to an issue by the abatement of the ransom to the sum of five hundred crowns; the two hundred still wanting were made up by the good fathers, the king threatening that if the bargain were not concluded, Cervantes should be carried off to Constantinople; and he was actually on board the galley for that purpose. So by borrowing some part of the required amount, and by taking the remainder from what was originally intrusted for the ransoming of other slaves, these worthy men procured our author his liberty, and restored him to Spain in the spring of 1581.

On his return to his native land the prospects of Cervantes were not very flattering. He was now thirty-four years of age, and had spent the best portion of his life without making any approach towards eminence or even towards acquiring the means of subsistence; his adventures, enterprises, and sufferings had, indeed, furnished him with a stock from which in after years his powerful mind drew largely in his writings; but since he [Pg xviii] did not at first devote himself to literary pursuits, at least not to those of an author, they could not afford him much consolation; and as to a military career, his wound and long captivity seemed to exclude him from all hope in that quarter. His family was poor, their scanty means having suffered from the sum raised for his ransom; and his connexions and friends were powerless to procure him any appointment at the court. He went to live at Madrid, where his mother and sister then resided, and there once more betook himself to the pursuit of his younger days. He shut himself up, and eagerly employed his time in reading every kind of books; Latin, Spanish, and Italian authors—all served to contribute to his various erudition.

Three whole years were thus spent; till at length he turned his reading to some account, by publishing, in 1584, a pastoral novel entitled Galatća. Some authors, amongst whom is Pellicer, are inclined to think that dramatic composition was the first in which he appeared before the public; but such an opinion has, by competent judges, been now abandoned. Galatća, which is interspersed with songs and verses, is a work of considerable merit, quite sufficient, indeed, though of course inferior to Don Quixote, to have gained for its author a high standing amongst Spanish writers; though in it we discern nothing of that peculiar style which has made Cervantes one of the most remarkable writers that ever lived,—that insight into human character, and that vein of humour with which he exposes and satirises its failings. It being so full of short metrical effusions would almost incline us to believe that it was written for the purpose of embodying the varied contents of a sort of poetical commonplace-book; some of which had, perhaps, been written when he was a youth under the tuition of his learned preceptor Juan Lopez de Hoyos; others may have been the pencillings of the weary hours of his long captivity in Africa. As a specimen of his power in the Spanish language it is quite worthy of him who in after years immortalised that tongue by the romance of Don Quixote. It had been better for Cervantes had he gone on in this sort of fictitious composition, instead of betaking himself to the drama, in which he had very formidable rivals, and for which, as was afterwards proved, his talents were less adapted.

On the 12th of December in the same year that his Galatća was published, Cervantes married, at Esquivias, a young lady who was of one of the first families of that place, and whose charms had furnished the chief subject of his amatory poems; she was named Donna Catalina de Salazar y Palacios y Vozmediano. Her fortune was but small, and only served to keep Cervantes for some few months in idleness; when his difficulties began to harass him again, and found him as a married man less able to meet them. He then betook himself to the drama, at which he laboured for several years, though with very indifferent success. He wrote, in all, it is said thirty comedies; but of these only eight remain, judging from the merits of which, we do not seem to have sustained any great loss in the others not having reached us.

It may appear strange at first that one who possessed such a wonderful power of description and delineation of character as did Cervantes, should not have been more successful in dramatic writing; but, whatever may be the cause, certain it is that his case does not stand alone. Men who have manifested the very highest abilities as romance-writers, have, if not entirely failed, at least not been remarkably successful, as composers of the drama; and of our own time, who so great a delineator of character, [Pg xix] or so happy in his incidents, or so stirring in his plots, as the immortal Author of Waverley? Yet the few specimens of dramatic composition which he has left us, only serve to shew that, when Waverley, Guy Mannering, Ivanhoe, and the rest of his romances are the delight of succeeding generations, Halidon Hill and the House of Aspen will, with the Numancia Vengada of the author of Don Quixote, be buried in comparative oblivion.

In 1588 Cervantes left Madrid, and settled at Seville, where, as he himself tells us, "he found something better to do than writing comedies." This "something better" was probably an appointment in some mercantile business; for we know that one of the principal branches of his family were very opulent merchants at Seville at that time, and through them he might obtain some means of subsistence less precarious than that which depended upon selling his comedies for a few "reals." Besides, two of the Cervantes-Saavedra of Seville were themselves amateur poets, and likely therefore to regard the more favourably their poor relation, Miguel of Alcala de Henares, to whom they would gladly intrust the management of some part of their mercantile affairs. The change, however, of life did not prevent Cervantes from still cultivating his old passion for literature; and we accordingly find his name as one of the prize-bearers for a series of poems which the Dominicans of Saragoza, in 1595, proposed to be written in praise of St. Hyacinthus; one of the prizes was adjudged to "Miguel Cervantes Saavedra of Seville."

In 1596 we find two short poetical pieces of Cervantes written upon the occasion of the gentlemen of Seville having taken arms, and prepared to deliver themselves and the city of Cadiz from the power of the English, who, under the famous Earl of Essex, had made a descent upon the Spanish coast, and destroyed the shipping intended for a second armada for the invasion of England. In 1598 Philip II. died; and Cervantes wrote a sonnet, which he then considered the best of his literary productions, upon a majestic tomb, of enormous height, to celebrate the funeral of that monarch. On the day that Philip was buried, a serious quarrel happened between the civil and ecclesiastical authorities of Seville; and Cervantes was mixed up in it, and was in some trouble for having dared to manifest his disapprobation by hissing at some part of their proceedings, but we are not told what.

In 1599 Cervantes went to Toledo, which is remarkable as being the place where he pretended to discover the original manuscript of Don Quixote, by the Arabian Cid Hamet Benengeli. It was about this time, too, that he resided in La Mancha, where he projected and executed part, at least, of his immortal romance of Don Quixote, and where he also laid the scene of that "ingenious gentleman's" adventures. It seems likely that, whatever may have been Cervantes' employment at Seville, it involved frequent travelling; and this may account for the very accurate knowledge which he displays of the different districts which he describes in his tale; for it is certain that the earlier part of his life could have afforded him no means of acquiring such information. Some have thought also that he was occasionally employed on government business, and that it was whilst on some commission of this sort that he was ill-treated by the people of La Mancha, and thrown into prison by them at Argasamilla. Whatever may have been the cause of his imprisonment, he himself tells us in the prologue to Don Quixote, that the first part of that work was composed in a jail.

[Pg xx] But for fifteen years of Cervantes' life, from 1588 to 1603, we know but very little of his pursuits; the notices we have of him during that time are very few and unsatisfactory; and this is the more to be regretted because it certainly was then that his great work was conceived, and in part executed. Soon after the accession of Philip the Third, he removed from Seville to Valladolid, probably for the sake of being near the court of that monarch, who, though remarkable for his indolence, yet professed himself the patron of letters. It was whilst living here that the first part of Don Quixote was published, but not at Valladolid; it appeared at Madrid, either at the end of 1604, or, at the latest, in 1605.

The records of the magistracy of Valladolid afford us some curious particulars of our author's mode of life about the time of the publication of Don Quixote. He was brought before the court of justice, on suspicion of having been concerned in a nightly brawl and murder, though he really had no share in it. A Spanish gentleman, named Don Gaspar Garibay, was stabbed about midnight near the house of Cervantes. When the alarm was raised, he was amongst the first to run out and proffer every assistance in his power to the wounded man. The neighbourhood was not very respectable, and this gave rise to our author's subsequent trouble in the matter; for it was suspected that the ladies of his household were, from the place where they lived, persons of bad reputation, and that he himself had, in some shameful affray, dealt the murderous blow with his own hand. He and all his family were, in consequence, directly arrested, and only got at liberty after undergoing a very minute and rigid examination. The records of the court tell us that Cervantes asserted that he was residing at Valladolid for purposes of business; that, by reason of his literary pursuits and reputation, he was frequently honoured by visits from gentlemen of the royal household and learned men of the university; and, moreover, that he was living in great poverty; for we are told that he, his wife, and his two sisters, one of whom was a nun, and his niece, were living in a scanty and mean lodging on the fourth floor of a poor-looking house, and amongst them all had only one maid-servant. He stated his age to be upwards of fifty, though we know that, if born in 1547, he must in fact have nearly, or quite completed his fifty-seventh year at this time. In such obscurity, then, was the immortal author of Don Quixote living at the time of its publication.

The First Part of this famous romance was dedicated to Don Alonzo Lopez de Zuniga, Duke of Bexar or Bejar, who at this time affected the character of a Mecćnas; whose conduct, however, towards Cervantes was not marked by a generosity suited to his rank, nor according to his profession, nor at all corresponding to the merits and wants of the author. But the book needed no patron; it must make its own way, and it did so. It was read immediately in court and city, by old and young, learned and unlearned, and by all with equal delight; "it went forth with the universal applause of all nations." Four editions (and in the seventeenth century, when so few persons comparatively could read, that was equivalent to more than double the number at the present time)—four editions were published and sold in one year.

The profits from the sale of Don Quixote must have been very considerable; and they, together with the remains of his paternal estates, and the pensions from the count and the cardinal, enabled Cervantes to live in ease and comfort. Ten years elapsed before he sent any new work to the press; which time was passed in study, and in attending to his pecuniary [Pg xxi] affairs. Though Madrid was now his fixed abode, we often find him at Esquivias, where he probably went to enjoy the quiet and repose of the village, and to look after the property which he there possessed as his wife's dowry.

In 1613 he published his twelve Novelas Exemplares, or 'Exemplary Novels,' with a dedication to his patron the Count de Lemos. He called them "exemplary," because, as he tells us, his other novels had been censured as more satirical than exemplary; which fault he determined to amend in these; and therefore each of them contains interwoven in it some error to be avoided, or some virtue to be practised. He asserts that they were entirely his own invention, not borrowed or copied from any other works of the same sort, nor translated from any other language, as was the case with most of the novels which his countrymen had published hitherto. But, notwithstanding this, we cannot fail to remark a strong resemblance in them to the tales of Boccaccio; still they are most excellent in their way, and have always been favourites with the Spanish youth for their interest and pure morality, and their ease and manliness of style. The titles of these novels are, The Little Gipsey, The Generous Lover, Rinconete and Cortadillo, The Spanish-English Lady, The Glass Doctor, The Force of Blood, The Jealous Estremaduran, The Illustrious Servant-Maid, The Two Damsels, The Lady Cornelia Bentivoglio, The Deceitful Marriage, and The Dialogue of the Dogs. They have all been translated into English, and are probably not unknown to some of our readers.

The next year Cervantes published another small work, entitled the Viage de Parnasso, or 'A Journey to Parnassus,' which is a playful satire upon the Spanish poets, after the manner of Cćsar Caporali's upon the Italian poets under a similar title. It is a good picture of the Spanish literature of his day, and one of the most powerful of his poetical works. It is full of satire, though not ill-natured, and there was no man of genius of the time who would complain of being too harshly treated in it. Cervantes introduces himself as the oldest and poorest of all the poetical fraternity, "the naked Adam of Spanish poets." The plot of the poem is as follows:—Apollo wishes to rid Parnassus of the bad poets, and to that end he calls together all the others by a message through Mercury. When all assembled, he leads them into a rich garden of Parnassus, and assigns to each the place which corresponds to his merits. Poor Cervantes alone does not obtain this distinction, and remains without being noticed in the presence of the rest, before whom all the works he has ever published are displayed. In vain does he urge his love for literature, and the troubles which he had endured for its sake; no seat can he get. At last Apollo, in compassion upon him, advises him to fold up his cloak, and to make that his seat; but, alas, so poor is he that he does not possess such a thing, and so he is obliged to remain standing in spite of his age, his talents, and the opinion of many who know and confess the honour and position which is his due. The vessel in which this 'Journey to Parnassus' is performed is described in a way quite worthy of Cervantes: "From topmast to keel it was all of verse; not one foot of prose was there in it. The airy railings which fenced the deck were all of double-rhymes. Ballads, an impudent but necessary race, occupied the rowing-benches; and rightly, for there is nothing to which they may not be turned. The poop was grand and gay, but somewhat strange in its style, being stuck all over with sonnets of the richest workmanship. The stroke-oars on either [Pg xxii] side were pulled by two vigorous triplets, which regulated the motion of the vessel in a way both easy and powerful. The gangway was one long and most melancholy elegy, from which tears were continually dropping."

The publication of a shameful imitation, pretending to be a Second Part of the Adventures of Don Quixote accelerated the production of Cervantes' own Second Part; which accordingly made its appearance at the beginning of 1615. Contrary to common experience, this Second Part was received, and deservedly, with as great applause as was the First Part ten years before.

Cervantes had now but a few more months to live; and it must, in his declining years, have been a great consolation to find that the efforts of his genius were still appreciated by his countrymen; not to mention the relief from pecuniary embarrassments which the profits of the sale must have afforded him. Cervantes was now at the height to which his ambition had all along aimed; he had no rival; for Lope de Vega was dead, and the literary kingdom of Spain was all his own. He was courted by the great; no strangers came to Madrid without making the writer of Don Quixote the first object of their inquiry; he reposed in honour, free from all calumny, in the bosom of his family.

This same year he published eight comedies, and the same number of interludes; two only in verse, the rest in prose. It does not seem likely that these were written at this time; they must have been the works of his earlier years; but, like his novels, corrected and given to the public when his judgment was more mature. Several of them had, no doubt, been performed on the stage many years before, and remained with Cervantes in manuscript. The dissertation which he prefixed to them is full of interest, and is very curious and valuable, since it contains the only account we have of the early history of the Spanish drama.

In 1616, he completed and prepared for the press a romance entitled Persiles and Sigismunda, of a grave character, written in imitation of the Ethiopics of Heliodorus; it was the work of many years, and is accounted by the Spaniards one of the purest specimens of Castilian writing. He finished it just before his death, but never lived to see it published. The dedication and prologue of Persiles and Sigismunda are very affecting; they are the voice of a dying man speaking to us of his approaching dissolution.

From the nature of his complaint, Cervantes retained his mental faculties to the very last, and so was able to be the historian of his latter days. At the end of the preface to Persiles, he tells us that he had gone for a few days to Esquivias, in hopes that country air might be beneficial to him. On his return to Madrid, he was accompanied by his friends, when a young student on horseback overtook them, riding very hard to do so, and complaining in consequence of the rapid pace at which they were going. One of the three made answer that it was no fault of theirs, but that the horse of Miguel de Cervantes was to be blamed, whose trot was none of the slowest. Scarcely had the name been pronounced, when the young man dismounted; and touching the border of Cervantes' left sleeve, exclaimed, "Yes, yes, it is indeed the maimed perfection, the all-famous, the delightful writer, the joy and darling of the Muses." This salutation was returned with Cervantes' natural modesty; and the worthy student performed the rest of the journey with him and his friends. "We drew up a little," says Cervantes, "and rode on at a measured pace; and whilst we rode, we happened to talk of my illness. The good student soon [Pg xxiii] knocked away all my hopes, and let me know my doom, by telling me that it was a dropsy that I had got: the thirst attending which, not all the waters of the ocean, though it were not salt, could suffice to quench. 'Therefore, Senor Cervantes,' said he, 'you must drink nothing at all, but forget not to eat, and to eat plentifully; that alone will recover you without any physic.' 'Others have told me the same,' answered I; 'but I can no more forbear drinking, than if I had been born to nothing else. My life is fast drawing to a close; and from the state of my pulse, I think I can scarcely outlive Sunday next at the utmost; so that I hardly think I shall profit by the acquaintance so fortunately made. But adieu, my merry friends all; for I am going to die; and I hope to see you again ere long in the next world as happy as hearts can desire.' With that, we found ourselves at the bridge of Toledo, by which we entered the city; and the student took leave of us, having to go round by the bridge of Segovia."

This is all that we know of the last sickness of Cervantes: it was dropsy, and this dropsy, according to his own prediction to the student, increased so rapidly, that a few days after, on the 18th of April, 1616, he was considered to be past recovery, and it was thought advisable for him to receive the last sacrament of extreme unction, which he accordingly did with all the devotion of a pious Catholic.

He died on the 23d day of April, 1616, in the sixty-ninth year of his age; and was buried in the habit of the Franciscans, whose order he had entered some time previous to his decease. It is a coincidence worth remembering, that Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra terminated his mortal course in Spain on the very same day that William Shakspere died in England.

As regards style of composition, Cervantes is without a rival in the Spanish language. For the purity of his writing, he is even to this day acknowledged, not only to be first, but to have no one who can come near enough to be called second to him. But this is not his greatest praise. He must ever be remembered as the originator of a kind of writing, which the greatest of men since his time have thought it an honour, of whatever country they may have been, to imitate. All modern romance-writers, and novel-writers (and what a mighty host are they!) must be content to be accounted the followers of Miguel de Cervantes.

With regard to Don Quixote, it need hardly be said that its object is satire upon the books of knight-errantry, which were so much used in the time of Cervantes, and especially by the Spanish. He conceived that these books were likely to give his countrymen false ideas of the world; to fill them all, but especially the young, with fanciful notions of life, and so make them unfit to meet its real difficulties and hardships. In order to exhibit the absurdity of such works (it must be remembered too, that the more famous books of knighthood had given rise to a host of spurious imitations, with all their faults and none of their beauties), the author of Don Quixote represents a worthy gentleman with his head turned by such reading, and then sallying forth and endeavouring to act in this plain matter-of-fact world (where there are windmills, and not giants—inns, and [Pg xxiv] not castles—good honest hosts and hostesses, and not lords and ladies—chambermaids, and not peerless beauties—estates to be got by hard labour, and not islands to be given away to one's dependants as if by enchantment), endeavouring to act, we say, as if all that was said in Amadis de Gaul, and Palmerin of England, and Olivante de Laura, were really true. The absurdities into which the poor gentleman's madness constantly hurries him, the stern and bitter satire which is conveyed in these against the books which caused them all, did more towards putting down the extravagances of knight-errantry than many volumes of the bitterest invective. We of this present day cannot be really alive to all the great genius displayed in Don Quixote. The books which it satirises are now almost unknown; many who have heard of Amadis de Gaul have never read it, and still less have they read all the lineage of the Amadis. Besides, in some of the first of the chivalrous romances, such as Palmerin of England, the Morte d'Arthur, and others, there was undoubtedly very much talent and beauty of sentiment: and it was as such that Southey thought it right to translate them and present them to the English public some years ago; and deeply indebted are we all to him for his labours, which revived among us somewhat of the taste for the old and stately prose of the ancient romances—a taste which in our day has given rise to those beautiful editions in English of the tales of De la Motte Fouqué. But we must ever remember that it was not for the purpose of ridiculing those and similar books that Cervantes wrote his "history"—one so keenly alive to the beauty of the poetry of the medićval writing as he was, never could have intended such a thing: it was to exterminate the race of miserable imitators, who, at his time, deluged Europe with sickening caricatures of the old romance. It has even been thought that he had intended another course in order to cure the disease, namely, that of himself composing a model romance in the style of Amadis, which, from its excellence, would make manifest the follies of men who had endeavoured to imitate that almost inimitable work. But the disease was past cure; the limb was obliged to be amputated; books of knight-errantry could not be reformed, he thought; and so rather than let them continue their mischief in their present shape, they must be quite destroyed; and this the satire of Don Quixote was by its author considered the most proper means of effecting.

This was indeed a daring remedy; and, as may be supposed, by some it has been thought that Cervantes, in lopping off an excrescence, did also destroy a healthy limb,—that, in destroying knight-errantry, he destroyed also the holy spirit of self-devotion and heroism. The Count Ségur, we are told by an ingenious writer of the present time,[2] who joins the Count[Pg xxv] in his opinion, laments that the fine spirit of chivalry should have lost its empire, and that the romance of Don Quixote, by its success and its philosophy, concealed under an attractive fiction, should have completed the ruin by fixing ridicule even upon its memory—a sentence indeed full of error; for real philosophy needs not to be concealed to be attractive. And Sir William Temple quotes the saying of a worthy Spaniard, who told him "that the History of Don Quixote had ruined the Spanish monarchy; for since that time men had grown ashamed of honour and love, and only thought of pursuing their fortune and satisfying their lust."

But surely such censure is misdirected—surely the downfall of Spain may be traced to other causes. It is not the spirit of heroism, or of Christian self-devotion, which Cervantes would put down. His manly writing can never be accused of that: misfortune had taught him too well in his own earlier days how to appreciate such a virtue. In nothing is his consummate skill perceived more than in the way in which he prevents us from confounding the follies of the knights-errant, and of the debased books of romance, with the generous heart and actions of the true Christian gentleman. In spite of all his hallucination, who can help respecting Don Quixote himself? We laugh, indeed, at the ludicrous situations into which his madness is for ever getting him; but we must reverence the good Christian cavalier who, amidst all, never thinks less of any thing than of himself and of his own interest. What is his character? It is that of one possessing virtue, imagination, genius, kind feeling,—all that can distinguish an elevated soul, and an affectionate heart. He is brave, faithful, loyal, always keeping his word; he contends only for virtue and glory. Does he wish for kingdoms? it is only that he may give them to his good squire Sancho Panza. He is a constant lover, a humane warrior, an affectionate master, an accomplished gentleman. It is not, then, by describing such a man that Cervantes desired to ridicule real heroism; surely not: he would only shew that, even with all these good qualities, if they were misdirected or spoiled by vain imaginations, the most noble could only become ridiculous. He would teach us, that this is a world of action, and not of fancy; that it will not do for us to go out of ourselves and out of the world, and lead an ideal life: our duties are around us and within us; and we need not leave our own homes in order to seek adventures wherein those duties may be acceptably performed. He perceived that by knight-errantry and romances some of the holiest aspirations of the human heart were, according to the adage, which affirms that "there is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous," by over-description and fulsome language, in danger of being exposed to ridicule, and so of being crushed; and he resolved, by excess of satire, to put a [Pg xxvi] stop at once to such a danger,—to crush those books which were daily destroying that which he held most dear—the true spirit of chivalry, the true devotion of the Christian gentleman. "When the light of chivalry was expiring, Cervantes put his extinguisher upon it, and drove away the moths that alone still fluttered around it. He loved chivalry too well to be patient when he saw it parodied and burlesqued; and he perceived that the best way of preserving it from shame was, to throw over it the sanctity of death."[3]

With respect to the present edition, little need be said beyond what the title-page itself implies. With what degree of judgment the "cumbrous matter" has been removed, must be left to the public to determine. The Editor may, however, say, that the task which he at first undertook with some trepidation, gradually assumed an easier and more pleasant aspect; and he may add, that the result has been such as to satisfy himself of the success of the experiment. He trusts that he has placed in the hands of the mass of our reading population, and especially of the youth of England, an edition of Cervantes' immortal work, in a convenient, but yet not too condensed form—retaining all the point, humour, and pathos of the original, without any of the prolixity, or the improprieties of expression, which have heretofore disfigured it. The judgment passed upon one of the books in our hero's library by his inquisitorial friends may well be applied to his own work: "Had there been less of it, it would have been more esteemed. 'Tis fit the book should be pruned and cleared of some inferior things that encumber and deform it: keep it, however," &c.—(Page 23.)

It only remains to add, that the excellent translation of Motteux has been principally adhered to in the present edition.

London, December 1st, 1846.

[1] Societies of this description, though not so common as in Spain, existed also in other countries. In England, since the Reformation, money bequeathed for this purpose was placed in the hands of some of the large London companies or guilds. Since the destruction of Algiers, by Lord Exmouth, and still later since the abolition of that piratical kingdom by the French, such charitable bequests, having become useless for their original purpose, have in some instances been devoted to the promotion of education by a decree of Chancery. This is the case with a large sum, usually known as 'Betton's gift,' in the trusteeship of the Ironmongers' Company.

[2] Kenelm Digby, Esq., in his beautiful book entitled Godefridus, one of the volumes of the Broad Stone of Honour.

[3] Vide Guesses at Truth.


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