Part II of the Translator's Preface for Don Quixote

Don Quixote

When Cervantes saw what had befallen them, he charged his companions to lay all the blame upon him, and as they were being bound he declared aloud that the whole plot was of his contriving, and that nobody else had any share in it. Brought before the Dey, he said the same. He was threatened with impalement and with torture; and as cutting off ears and noses were playful freaks with the Algerines, it may be conceived what their tortures were like; but nothing could make him swerve from his original statement that he and he alone was responsible. The upshot was that the unhappy gardener was hanged by his master, and the prisoners taken possession of by the Dey, who, however, afterwards restored most of them to their masters, but kept Cervantes, paying Dali Mami 500 crowns for him. He felt, no doubt, that a man of such resource, energy, and daring, was too dangerous a piece of property to be left in private hands; and he had him heavily ironed and lodged in his own prison. If he thought that by these means he could break the spirit or shake the resolution of his prisoner, he was soon undeceived, for Cervantes contrived before long to despatch a letter to the Governor of Oran, entreating him to send him some one that could be trusted, to enable him and three other gentlemen, fellow-captives of his, to make their escape; intending evidently to renew his first attempt with a more trustworthy guide. Unfortunately the Moor who carried the letter was stopped just outside Oran, and the letter being found upon him, he was sent back to Algiers, where by the order of the Dey he was promptly impaled as a warning to others, while Cervantes was condemned to receive two thousand blows of the stick, a number which most likely would have deprived the world of "Don Quixote," had not some persons, who they were we know not, interceded on his behalf.

After this he seems to have been kept in still closer confinement than before, for nearly two years passed before he made another attempt. This time his plan was to purchase, by the aid of a Spanish renegade and two Valencian merchants resident in Algiers, an armed vessel in which he and about sixty of the leading captives were to make their escape; but just as they were about to put it into execution one Doctor Juan Blanco de Paz, an ecclesiastic and a compatriot, informed the Dey of the plot. Cervantes by force of character, by his self-devotion, by his untiring energy and his exertions to lighten the lot of his companions in misery, had endeared himself to all, and become the leading spirit in the captive colony, and, incredible as it may seem, jealousy of his influence and the esteem in which he was held, moved this man to compass his destruction by a cruel death. The merchants finding that the Dey knew all, and fearing that Cervantes under torture might make disclosures that would imperil their own lives, tried to persuade him to slip away on board a vessel that was on the point of sailing for Spain; but he told them they had nothing to fear, for no tortures would make him compromise anybody, and he went at once and gave himself up to the Dey.

As before, the Dey tried to force him to name his accomplices. Everything was made ready for his immediate execution; the halter was put round his neck and his hands tied behind him, but all that could be got from him was that he himself, with the help of four gentlemen who had since left Algiers, had arranged the whole, and that the sixty who were to accompany him were not to know anything of it until the last moment. Finding he could make nothing of him, the Dey sent him back to prison more heavily ironed than before.

The poverty-stricken Cervantes family had been all this time trying once more to raise the ransom money, and at last a sum of three hundred ducats was got together and entrusted to the Redemptorist Father Juan Gil, who was about to sail for Algiers. The Dey, however, demanded more than double the sum offered, and as his term of office had expired and he was about to sail for Constantinople, taking all his slaves with him, the case of Cervantes was critical. He was already on board heavily ironed, when the Dey at length agreed to reduce his demand by one-half, and Father Gil by borrowing was able to make up the amount, and on September 19, 1580, after a captivity of five years all but a week, Cervantes was at last set free. Before long he discovered that Blanco de Paz, who claimed to be an officer of the Inquisition, was now concocting on false evidence a charge of misconduct to be brought against him on his return to Spain. To checkmate him Cervantes drew up a series of twenty-five questions, covering the whole period of his captivity, upon which he requested Father Gil to take the depositions of credible witnesses before a notary. Eleven witnesses taken from among the principal captives in Algiers deposed to all the facts above stated and to a great deal more besides. There is something touching in the admiration, love, and gratitude we see struggling to find expression in the formal language of the notary, as they testify one after another to the good deeds of Cervantes, how he comforted and helped the weak-hearted, how he kept up their drooping courage, how he shared his poor purse with this deponent, and how "in him this deponent found father and mother."

On his return to Spain he found his old regiment about to march for Portugal to support Philip's claim to the crown, and utterly penniless now, had no choice but to rejoin it. He was in the expeditions to the Azores in 1582 and the following year, and on the conclusion of the war returned to Spain in the autumn of 1583, bringing with him the manuscript of his pastoral romance, the "Galatea," and probably also, to judge by internal evidence, that of the first portion of "Persiles and Sigismunda." He also brought back with him, his biographers assert, an infant daughter, the offspring of an amour, as some of them with great circumstantiality inform us, with a Lisbon lady of noble birth, whose name, however, as well as that of the street she lived in, they omit to mention. The sole foundation for all this is that in 1605 there certainly was living in the family of Cervantes a Dona Isabel de Saavedra, who is described in an official document as his natural daughter, and then twenty years of age.

With his crippled left hand promotion in the army was hopeless, now that Don John was dead and he had no one to press his claims and services, and for a man drawing on to forty life in the ranks was a prospect; he had already a certain reputation as a poet; he made up his mind, therefore, to cast his lot with literature, and for a first venture committed his "Galatea" to the press. It was published, as Salva y Mallen shows conclusively, at Alcala, his own birth-place, in 1585 and no doubt helped to make his name more widely known, but certainly did not do him much good in any other way.

While it was going through the press, he married Dona Catalina de Palacios Salazar y Vozmediano, a lady of Esquivias near Madrid, and apparently a friend of the family, who brought him a fortune which may possibly have served to keep the wolf from the door, but if so, that was all. The drama had by this time outgrown market-place stages and strolling companies, and with his old love for it he naturally turned to it for a congenial employment. In about three years he wrote twenty or thirty plays, which he tells us were performed without any throwing of cucumbers or other missiles, and ran their course without any hisses, outcries, or disturbance. In other words, his plays were not bad enough to be hissed off the stage, but not good enough to hold their own upon it. Only two of them have been preserved, but as they happen to be two of the seven or eight he mentions with complacency, we may assume they are favourable specimens, and no one who reads the "Numancia" and the "Trato de Argel" will feel any surprise that they failed as acting dramas. Whatever merits they may have, whatever occasional they may show, they are, as regards construction, incurably clumsy. How completely they failed is manifest from the fact that with all his sanguine temperament and indomitable perseverance he was unable to maintain the struggle to gain a livelihood as a dramatist for more than three years; nor was the rising popularity of Lope the cause, as is often said, notwithstanding his own words to the contrary. When Lope began to write for the stage is uncertain, but it was certainly after Cervantes went to Seville.

Among the "Nuevos Documentos" printed by Senor Asensio y Toledo is one dated 1592, and curiously characteristic of Cervantes. It is an agreement with one Rodrigo Osorio, a manager, who was to accept six comedies at fifty ducats (about 6l.) apiece, not to be paid in any case unless it appeared on representation that the said comedy was one of the best that had ever been represented in Spain. The test does not seem to have been ever applied; perhaps it was sufficiently apparent to Rodrigo Osorio that the comedies were not among the best that had ever been represented. Among the correspondence of Cervantes there might have been found, no doubt, more than one letter like that we see in the "Rake's Progress," "Sir, I have read your play, and it will not do."

He was more successful in a literary contest at Saragossa in 1595 in honour of the canonisation of St. Jacinto, when his composition won the first prize, three silver spoons. The year before this he had been appointed a collector of revenues for the kingdom of Granada. In order to remit the money he had collected more conveniently to the treasury, he entrusted it to a merchant, who failed and absconded; and as the bankrupt's assets were insufficient to cover the whole, he was sent to prison at Seville in September 1597. The balance against him, however, was a small one, about 26l., and on giving security for it he was released at the end of the year.

It was as he journeyed from town to town collecting the king's taxes, that he noted down those bits of inn and wayside life and character that abound in the pages of "Don Quixote:" the Benedictine monks with spectacles and sunshades, mounted on their tall mules; the strollers in costume bound for the next village; the barber with his basin on his head, on his way to bleed a patient; the recruit with his breeches in his bundle, tramping along the road singing; the reapers gathered in the venta gateway listening to "Felixmarte of Hircania" read out to them; and those little Hogarthian touches that he so well knew how to bring in, the ox-tail hanging up with the landlord's comb stuck in it, the wine-skins at the bed-head, and those notable examples of hostelry art, Helen going off in high spirits on Paris's arm, and Dido on the tower dropping tears as big as walnuts. Nay, it may well be that on those journeys into remote regions he came across now and then a specimen of the pauper gentleman, with his lean hack and his greyhound and his books of chivalry, dreaming away his life in happy ignorance that the world had changed since his great-grandfather's old helmet was new. But it was in Seville that he found out his true vocation, though he himself would not by any means have admitted it to be so. It was there, in Triana, that he was first tempted to try his hand at drawing from life, and first brought his humour into play in the exquisite little sketch of "Rinconete y Cortadillo," the germ, in more ways than one, of "Don Quixote."

Where and when that was written, we cannot tell. After his imprisonment all trace of Cervantes in his official capacity disappears, from which it may be inferred that he was not reinstated. That he was still in Seville in November 1598 appears from a satirical sonnet of his on the elaborate catafalque erected to testify the grief of the city at the death of Philip II, but from this up to 1603 we have no clue to his movements. The words in the preface to the First Part of "Don Quixote" are generally held to be conclusive that he conceived the idea of the book, and wrote the beginning of it at least, in a prison, and that he may have done so is extremely likely.

There is a tradition that Cervantes read some portions of his work to a select audience at the Duke of Bejar's, which may have helped to make the book known; but the obvious conclusion is that the First Part of "Don Quixote" lay on his hands some time before he could find a publisher bold enough to undertake a venture of so novel a character; and so little faith in it had Francisco Robles of Madrid, to whom at last he sold it, that he did not care to incur the expense of securing the copyright for Aragon or Portugal, contenting himself with that for Castile. The printing was finished in December, and the book came out with the new year, 1605. It is often said that "Don Quixote" was at first received coldly. The facts show just the contrary. No sooner was it in the hands of the public than preparations were made to issue pirated editions at Lisbon and Valencia, and to bring out a second edition with the additional copyrights for Aragon and Portugal, which he secured in February.

No doubt it was received with something more than coldness by certain sections of the community. Men of wit, taste, and discrimination among the aristocracy gave it a hearty welcome, but the aristocracy in general were not likely to relish a book that turned their favourite reading into ridicule and laughed at so many of their favourite ideas. The dramatists who gathered round Lope as their leader regarded Cervantes as their common enemy, and it is plain that he was equally obnoxious to the other clique, the culto poets who had Gongora for their chief. Navarrete, who knew nothing of the letter above mentioned, tries hard to show that the relations between Cervantes and Lope were of a very friendly sort, as indeed they were until "Don Quixote" was written. Cervantes, indeed, to the last generously and manfully declared his admiration of Lope's powers, his unfailing invention, and his marvellous fertility; but in the preface of the First Part of "Don Quixote" and in the verses of "Urganda the Unknown," and one or two other places, there are, if we read between the lines, sly hits at Lope's vanities and affectations that argue no personal good-will; and Lope openly sneers at "Don Quixote" and Cervantes, and fourteen years after his death gives him only a few lines of cold commonplace in the "Laurel de Apolo," that seem all the colder for the eulogies of a host of nonentities whose names are found nowhere else.

In 1601 Valladolid was made the seat of the Court, and at the beginning of 1603 Cervantes had been summoned thither in connection with the balance due by him to the Treasury, which was still outstanding. He remained at Valladolid, apparently supporting himself by agencies and scrivener's work of some sort; probably drafting petitions and drawing up statements of claims to be presented to the Council, and the like. So, at least, we gather from the depositions taken on the occasion of the death of a gentleman, the victim of a street brawl, who had been carried into the house in which he lived. In these he himself is described as a man who wrote and transacted business, and it appears that his household then consisted of his wife, the natural daughter Isabel de Saavedra already mentioned, his sister Andrea, now a widow, her daughter Constanza, a mysterious Magdalena de Sotomayor calling herself his sister, for whom his biographers cannot account, and a servant-maid.

Meanwhile "Don Quixote" had been growing in favour, and its author's name was now known beyond the Pyrenees. In 1607 an edition was printed at Brussels. Robles, the Madrid publisher, found it necessary to meet the demand by a third edition, the seventh in all, in 1608. The popularity of the book in Italy was such that a Milan bookseller was led to bring out an edition in 1610; and another was called for in Brussels in 1611. It might naturally have been expected that, with such proofs before him that he had hit the taste of the public, Cervantes would have at once set about redeeming his rather vague promise of a second volume.

But, to all appearance, nothing was farther from his thoughts. He had still by him one or two short tales of the same vintage as those he had inserted in "Don Quixote" and instead of continuing the adventures of Don Quixote, he set to work to write more of these "Novelas Exemplares" as he afterwards called them, with a view to making a book of them.

The novels were published in the summer of 1613, with a dedication to the Conde de Lemos, the Maecenas of the day, and with one of those chatty confidential prefaces Cervantes was so fond of. In this, eight years and a half after the First Part of "Don Quixote" had appeared, we get the first hint of a forthcoming Second Part. "You shall see shortly," he says, "the further exploits of Don Quixote and humours of Sancho Panza." His idea of "shortly" was a somewhat elastic one, for, as we know by the date to Sancho's letter, he had barely one-half of the book completed that time twelvemonth.

But more than poems, or pastorals, or novels, it was his dramatic ambition that engrossed his thoughts. The same indomitable spirit that kept him from despair in the bagnios of Algiers, and prompted him to attempt the escape of himself and his comrades again and again, made him persevere in spite of failure and discouragement in his efforts to win the ear of the public as a dramatist. The temperament of Cervantes was essentially sanguine. The portrait he draws in the preface to the novels, with the aquiline features, chestnut hair, smooth untroubled forehead, and bright cheerful eyes, is the very portrait of a sanguine man. Nothing that the managers might say could persuade him that the merits of his plays would not be recognised at last if they were only given a fair chance. The old soldier of the Spanish Salamis was bent on being the Aeschylus of Spain. He was to found a great national drama, based on the true principles of art, that was to be the envy of all nations; he was to drive from the stage the silly, childish plays, the "mirrors of nonsense and models of folly" that were in vogue through the cupidity of the managers and shortsightedness of the authors; he was to correct and educate the public taste until it was ripe for tragedies on the model of the Greek drama--like the "Numancia" for instance--and comedies that would not only amuse but improve and instruct. All this he was to do, could he once get a hearing: there was the initial difficulty.

He shows plainly enough, too, that "Don Quixote" and the demolition of the chivalry romances was not the work that lay next his heart. He was, indeed, as he says himself in his preface, more a stepfather than a father to "Don Quixote." Never was great work so neglected by its author. That it was written carelessly, hastily, and by fits and starts, was not always his fault, but it seems clear he never read what he sent to the press. He knew how the printers had blundered, but he never took the trouble to correct them when the third edition was in progress, as a man who really cared for the child of his brain would have done. He appears to have regarded the book as little more than a mere libro de entretenimiento, an amusing book, a thing, as he says in the "Viaje," "to divert the melancholy moody heart at any time or season." No doubt he had an affection for his hero, and was very proud of Sancho Panza. It would have been strange indeed if he had not been proud of the most humorous creation in all fiction. He was proud, too, of the popularity and success of the book, and beyond measure delightful is the naivete with which he shows his pride in a dozen passages in the Second Part. But it was not the success he coveted. In all probability he would have given all the success of "Don Quixote," nay, would have seen every copy of "Don Quixote" burned in the Plaza Mayor, for one such success as Lope de Vega was enjoying on an average once a week.

And so he went on, dawdling over "Don Quixote," adding a chapter now and again, and putting it aside to turn to "Persiles and Sigismunda"--which, as we know, was to be the most entertaining book in the language, and the rival of "Theagenes and Chariclea"--or finishing off one of his darling comedies; and if Robles asked when "Don Quixote" would be ready, the answer no doubt was: En breve-shortly, there was time enough for that. At sixty-eight he was as full of life and hope and plans for the future as a boy of eighteen.

Nemesis was coming, however. He had got as far as Chapter LIX, which at his leisurely pace he could hardly have reached before October or November 1614, when there was put into his hand a small octave lately printed at Tarragona, and calling itself "Second Volume of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha: by the Licentiate Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda of Tordesillas." The last half of Chapter LIX and most of the following chapters of the Second Part give us some idea of the effect produced upon him, and his irritation was not likely to be lessened by the reflection that he had no one to blame but himself. Had Avellaneda, in fact, been content with merely bringing out a continuation to "Don Quixote," Cervantes would have had no reasonable grievance. His own intentions were expressed in the very vaguest language at the end of the book; nay, in his last words, "forse altro cantera con miglior plettro," he seems actually to invite some one else to continue the work, and he made no sign until eight years and a half had gone by; by which time Avellaneda's volume was no doubt written.

In fact Cervantes had no case, or a very bad one, as far as the mere continuation was concerned. But Avellaneda chose to write a preface to it, full of such coarse personal abuse as only an ill-conditioned man could pour out. He taunts Cervantes with being old, with having lost his hand, with having been in prison, with being poor, with being friendless, accuses him of envy of Lope's success, of petulance and querulousness, and so on; and it was in this that the sting lay. Avellaneda's reason for this personal attack is obvious enough. Whoever he may have been, it is clear that he was one of the dramatists of Lope's school, for he has the impudence to charge Cervantes with attacking him as well as Lope in his criticism on the drama. His identification has exercised the best critics and baffled all the ingenuity and research that has been brought to bear on it. Navarrete and Ticknor both incline to the belief that Cervantes knew who he was; but I must say I think the anger he shows suggests an invisible assailant; it is like the irritation of a man stung by a mosquito in the dark. Cervantes from certain solecisms of language pronounces him to be an Aragonese, and Pellicer, an Aragonese himself, supports this view and believes him, moreover, to have been an ecclesiastic, a Dominican probably.

Don Quixote

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