But to suppose Cervantes deliberately setting himself to expound any such idea in two stout quarto volumes is to suppose something not only very unlike the age in which he lived, but altogether unlike Cervantes himself, who would have been the first to laugh at an attempt of the sort made by anyone else. The extraordinary influence of the romances of chivalry in his day is quite enough to account for the genesis of the book. Some idea of the prodigious development of this branch of literature in the sixteenth century may be obtained from the scrutiny of Chapter VII, if the reader bears in mind that only a portion of the romances belonging to by far the largest group are enumerated.
As to its effect upon the nation, there is abundant evidence. From the time when the Amadises and Palmerins began to grow popular down to the very end of the century, there is a steady stream of invective, from men whose character and position lend weight to their words, against the romances of chivalry and the infatuation of their readers. Ridicule was the only besom to sweep away that dust. That this was the task Cervantes set himself, and that he had ample provocation to urge him to it, will be sufficiently clear to those who look into the evidence; as it will be also that it was not chivalry itself that he attacked and swept away.
Its work was done when Granada fell, and as chivalry was essentially republican in its nature, it could not live under the rule that Ferdinand substituted for the free institutions of mediaeval Spain. What he did smile away was not chivalry but a degrading mockery of it. There were seen so many cavaliers prancing and curvetting before the windows of their mistresses, that a stranger would have imagined the whole nation to have been nothing less than a race of knight-errants.
But after the world became a little acquainted with that notable history, the man that was seen in that once celebrated drapery was pointed at as a Don Quixote, and found himself the jest of high and low. And I verily believe that to this, and this only, we owe that dampness and poverty of spirit which has run through all our councils for a century past, so little agreeable to those nobler actions of our famous ancestors.
It would be so if its moral were that, in this world, true enthusiasm naturally leads to ridicule and discomfiture. But it preaches nothing of the sort; its moral, so far as it can be said to have one, is that the spurious enthusiasm that is born of vanity and self-conceit, that is made an end in itself, not a means to an end, that acts on mere impulse, regardless of circumstances and consequences, is mischievous to its owner, and a very considerable nuisance to the community at large.
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There can be little doubt that all he contemplated was a short tale to range with those he had already written, a tale setting forth the ludicrous results that might be expected to follow the attempt of a crazy gentleman to act the part of a knight-errant in modern life. To try to think of a Don Quixote without Sancho Panza is like trying to think of a one-bladed pair of scissors. The story was written at first, like the others, without any division and without the intervention of Cid Hamete Benengeli; and it seems not unlikely that Cervantes had some intention of bringing Dulcinea, or Aldonza Lorenzo, on the scene in person.
What, if instead of a mere string of farcical misadventures, he were to make his tale a burlesque of one of these books, caricaturing their style, incidents, and spirit? In working out the new ideas, he soon found the value of Sancho Panza. By the time Cervantes had got his volume of novels off his hands, and summoned up resolution enough to set about the Second Part in earnest, the case was very much altered.
Don Quixote and Sancho Panza had not merely found favour, but had already become, what they have never since ceased to be, veritable entities to the popular imagination. There was no occasion for him now to interpolate extraneous matter; nay, his readers told him plainly that what they wanted of him was more Don Quixote and more Sancho Panza, and not novels, tales, or digressions. To himself, too, his creations had become realities, and he had become proud of them, especially of Sancho.
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He began the Second Part, therefore, under very different conditions, and the difference makes itself manifest at once. Even in translation the style will be seen to be far easier, more flowing, more natural, and more like that of a man sure of himself and of his audience. Don Quixote and Sancho undergo a change also. In the First Part, Don Quixote has no character or individuality whatever. He is nothing more than a crazy representative of the sentiments of the chivalry romances.
In all that he says and does he is simply repeating the lesson he has learned from his books; and therefore, it is absurd to speak of him in the gushing strain of the sentimental critics when they dilate upon his nobleness, disinterestedness, dauntless courage, and so forth. It was the business of a knight-errant to right wrongs, redress injuries, and succour the distressed, and this, as a matter of course, he makes his business when he takes up the part; a knight-errant was bound to be intrepid, and so he feels bound to cast fear aside.
The advantage of this is that he is enabled to make use of Don Quixote as a mouthpiece for his own reflections, and so, without seeming to digress, allow himself the relief of digression when he requires it, as freely as in a commonplace book. It is true the amount of individuality bestowed upon Don Quixote is not very great. As to Sancho, it is plain, from the concluding words of the preface to the First Part, that he was a favourite with his creator even before he had been taken into favour by the public. An inferior genius, taking him in hand a second time, would very likely have tried to improve him by making him more comical, clever, amiable, or virtuous.
But Cervantes was too true an artist to spoil his work in this way. He is a much more important and prominent figure in the Second Part than in the First; indeed, it is his matchless mendacity about Dulcinea that to a great extent supplies the action of the story.
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His development in this respect is as remarkable as in any other. In the First Part he displays a great natural gift of lying. But in the service of such a master as Don Quixote he develops rapidly, as we see when he comes to palm off the three country wenches as Dulcinea and her ladies in waiting. In the Second Part it is the spirit rather than the incidents of the chivalry romances that is the subject of the burlesque.
In the romances of chivalry love is either a mere animalism or a fantastic idolatry. Like everything else in these romances, it is a gross exaggeration of the real sentiment of chivalry, but its peculiar extravagance is probably due to the influence of those masters of hyperbole, the Provencal poets. When a troubadour professed his readiness to obey his lady in all things, he made it incumbent upon the next comer, if he wished to avoid the imputation of tameness and commonplace, to declare himself the slave of her will, which the next was compelled to cap by some still stronger declaration; and so expressions of devotion went on rising one above the other like biddings at an auction, and a conventional language of gallantry and theory of love came into being that in time permeated the literature of Southern Europe, and bore fruit, in one direction in the transcendental worship of Beatrice and Laura, and in another in the grotesque idolatry which found exponents in writers like Feliciano de Silva.
There are, of course, points obvious enough to a Spanish seventeenth century audience which do not immediately strike a reader now-a-days, and Cervantes often takes it for granted that an allusion will be generally understood which is only intelligible to a few. For example, on many of his readers in Spain, and most of his readers out of it, the significance of his choice of a country for his hero is completely lost. Of all the regions of Spain it is the last that would suggest the idea of romance.
Of all the dull central plateau of the Peninsula it is the dullest tract.
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There is something impressive about the grim solitudes of Estremadura; and if the plains of Leon and Old Castile are bald and dreary, they are studded with old cities renowned in history and rich in relics of the past. But even when better informed they seem to have no apprehension of the full force of the discrepancy. It is the incongruity of Sancho in all his ways, words, and works, with the ideas and aims of his master, quite as much as the wonderful vitality and truth to nature of the character, that makes him the most humorous creation in the whole range of fiction.
It is the grave matter-of-factness of the narrative, and the apparent unconsciousness of the author that he is saying anything ludicrous, anything but the merest commonplace, that give its peculiar flavour to the humour of Cervantes. His, in fact, is the exact opposite of the humour of Sterne and the self-conscious humourists. Cervantes always leaves you alone with Don Quixote and Sancho. He and Swift and the great humourists always keep themselves out of sight, or, more properly speaking, never think about themselves at all, unlike our latter-day school of humourists, who seem to have revived the old horse-collar method, and try to raise a laugh by some grotesque assumption of ignorance, imbecility, or bad taste.
It is true that to do full justice to Spanish humour in any other language is well-nigh an impossibility. There is a natural gravity and a sonorous stateliness about Spanish, be it ever so colloquial, that make an absurdity doubly absurd, and give plausibility to the most preposterous statement.
But if foreigners have failed to do justice to the humour of Cervantes, they are no worse than his own countrymen. The craze of Don Quixote seems, in some instances, to have communicated itself to his critics, making them see things that are not in the book and run full tilt at phantoms that have no existence save in their own imaginations. Like a good many critics now-a-days, they forget that screams are not criticism, and that it is only vulgar tastes that are influenced by strings of superlatives, three-piled hyperboles, and pompous epithets. But what strikes one as particularly strange is that while they deal in extravagant eulogies, and ascribe all manner of imaginary ideas and qualities to Cervantes, they show no perception of the quality that ninety-nine out of a hundred of his readers would rate highest in him, and hold to be the one that raises him above all rivalry.
Cervantes at times makes it a kind of commonplace book for occasional essays and criticisms, or for the observations and reflections and gathered wisdom of a long and stirring life. It is a mine of shrewd observation on mankind and human nature.
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Among modern novels there may be, here and there, more elaborate studies of character, but there is no book richer in individualised character. What Coleridge said of Shakespeare in minimis is true of Cervantes; he never, even for the most temporary purpose, puts forward a lay figure. There is life and individuality in all his characters, however little they may have to do, or however short a time they may be before the reader.
Samson Carrasco, the curate, Teresa Panza, Altisidora, even the two students met on the road to the cave of Montesinos, all live and move and have their being; and it is characteristic of the broad humanity of Cervantes that there is not a hateful one among them all. 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.
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.
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.
grupoavigase.com/includes/239/5610-neocueva-de.php And then, when they quote the Holy Scriptures! 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. Hence the cogitation and abstraction you found me in, and reason enough, what you have heard from me.
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?
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- Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes.
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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.
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. 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.