CERVANTES IN ENGLAND
By JAMES FITZMAURICE-KELLY
CORRESPONDING MEMBER OF THE ROYAL SPANISH ACADEMY
Read January 25, 1905
In Commemoration of the Tercentenary of ‘Don Quixote‘
Lord Reay, Your Excellencies, and Gentlemen:
My first duty is to express to the Council and to the members of the British Academy my thanks for the distinguished honour which they have done me in inviting me to address them on this occasion of high international interest; and my second duty is to deliver to you. Lord Reay, a message from your learned brethren who form the Royal Academy of Spain. As a member of that ancient and illustrious body, desirous of associating itself with your proceedings today, it falls to me to act as its spokesman, and to convey to you its fraternal greetings as well as its grateful recognition of the prompt enthusiasm which has impelled you to take the lead in honouring the most famous literary genius that Spain can boast. You have met together here to do homage to one of the great men of the world, and to commemorate the publication of the book with which he endowed mankind just three hundred years ago. It is in strict accordance with historic tradition that you, as the official representatives of British culture, should be the first learned body in Europe to celebrate this tercentenary, and I propose to show that, since the first decade of the seventeenth century, this country has been foremost in paying tribute to an amazing masterpiece. The work has survived, no doubt, by virtue of its intrinsic and transcendent merits; but, like every other creation, it has had to struggle for existence, and it is gratifying to us to remember that British insight, British appreciation, British scholarship, and British munificence have contributed towards the speedier recognition of Cervantes’s genius. I will ask your permission, my Lord, to demonstrate this restricted thesis instead of taking you and your colleagues through the labyrinth of aesthetic criticism for which the subtle ingenuity of three centuries is responsible. But it may not be out of place to begin with a few words concerning the author of Don Quixote and the circumstances in which his romance was produced.
Many alleged incidents in his picturesque career have afforded subjects to poets and dramatists and painters; but these are exercises in the domain of imagination, and the briefest summary of ascertained facts will be more to my purpose. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born at Alcala de Henares in 1547. The son of a humble apothecary-surgeon, without a university degree, and constantly wandering from town to town in search of patients, Cervantes cannot well have received a systematic education; but we really know nothing of his youth except that, at some date previous to 1569, he composed copies of mediocre verses dedicated to Philip the Second’s wife, Isabel de Valois. He is next heard of as chamberlain to the future Cardinal Acquaviva at Rome; thence he passed into the army, fought under Don John of Austria at Lepanto (where he received the wound in his left hand which was to be a source of greater pride to him than any of his writings), shared in the Navarino and Tunis campaigns, and, after five years of service, set sail for Spain to seek promotion. He was captured by Moorish pirates on September 26, 1575, and was carried into Algiers, where his heroic conduct won him — not only the admiration of his fellow prisoners, but — the respect of his taskmasters. After nearly five years of slavery in Algiers, during which period he wrote verses (some of which have been preserved), he was ransomed on September 19, 1580, returned to Spain, was apparently employed in Portugal, married at the end of 1584, and in the following year published the First Part of an artificial and ambitious pastoral romance, La Galatea. At this time he was writing numerous plays which, so he tells us, won popular favour; evidently they were not so successful as their author imagined in his retrospect, for in 1587 Cervantes sought and found less congenial occupation in collecting provisions for the Invincible Armada. It was ill-paid work, but it gave him bread, while literature and the drama did not. This is his first association with England, and it was no fault of his if the equipment of the Armada was not complete, for he perquisitioned with such tempestuous zeal as to incur a threat of excommunication from the ecclesiastics whose stores he seized. He remained in the public service as collector of revenues, not greatly to his own satisfaction (to judge by his application for one of four posts vacant in America), and not altogether to the satisfaction of his official superiors (to judge from the fact that he was imprisoned at Seville in 1597 for irregularities in his accounts). He was soon released, but apparently was not reinstated. We cannot wonder at this: he had not the talent for routine.
The next six or seven years must have been the dreariest period of Cervantes’s life. He lingered on in Seville, to all seeming ruined beyond hope. But he was not embittered: ex forti dulcedo. The alchemy of his genius was now free to work, free to transmute his personal misfortunes into ore more precious than that which the Spanish argosies brought from the mines of Potosi. In the Triana and other poor quarters of Seville, he had daily opportunities of studying the originals of Gines de Pasamonte and of Rinconete and Cortadillo, two diverting picaroons who perhaps came into existence before Sancho Panza; and in Seville, from 1597 to 1603, he had time to compare the dreams of life with its realities. All unconsciously he had undergone an admirable preparation for the task which lay before him. The vicissitudes of his troubled existence constituted an inexhaustible intellectual capital. To any ordinary eye they might seem a collection of unmanageable dross, but the man of genius wields a divining-rod which leads him through the dusk to the spot where the hidden treasure lies; and so it happened with Cervantes. In the course of his long rides, collecting the King’s taxes, he had observed the personages whom he has presented so vividly as to make them real to each of us three hundred years afterwards. It is the paramount faculty of imaginative creation to force us to see through the medium of its transfiguring vision, and we have the privilege of knowing Spain in Cervantes’s transcription of it. We accompany him in those journeys across baking plains and sterile mountains and we meet the characters with whom he was familiar. We cannot doubt that he had encountered innkeepers who could cap a quotation from an ancient ballad, and who delighted in the incredible adventures of Cirongilio of Thrace or of Felixmarte of Hircania; demure Toledan silk-mercers on the road to Murcia, with their sunshades up to protect them against the heat; barbers who preferred Galaor to his more famous brother Amadis of Gaul, and who were pleased to have Ariosto on their shelves even though they could not read him; Benedictine monks peering through their travelling spectacles from the backs of mules as tall as dromedaries; canons far better acquainted with the romances of chivalry than with Villalpando’s treatise on logic; amorous and noble youths from Aragon, disguised as muleteers; and perhaps a poor oldfashioned gentleman who in some solitary hamlet pored and pored over tales of chivalrous deeds till he persuaded himself that he was born to repeat these exploits and to restore the golden age — that happy time when maleficent giants were neatly divided at the waist by knights whose hearts were pure, and who themselves avoided similar inconveniences by timely recourse to Fierabras’s inestimable balsam, two drops of which joined to a nicety the severed halves of a bisected paladin.
The time was coming when these casual acquaintances, embellished by the sunniest humour and most urbane irony, were to find place in Cervantes’s rich portrait-gallery and were to be his glory as well as our delight. While he was giving artistic form to his reminiscences as chamberlain, soldier, slave, poet, romancer, dramatist, tax-gatherer, and broken wanderer, his knowledge of life was continually extending. The Treasury was constantly upon his track. What actually took place is somewhat obscure: Cervantes was (probably) imprisoned once more in 1598 and (almost certainly) again in 1601-2. It may have been in Seville jail that he began to write what he describes as a story ‘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.’ What is certain is that early in 1603 he was ordered to appear before the Exchequer Court there to produce his vouchers and explain his confused accounts. It was the most fortunate thing that could have happened to him. We may be tolerably sure that the loose bookkeeping which had perplexed the Treasury clerks for years was not made clear in an instant, and that Cervantes’s examination was prolonged over a considerable period; and it seems likely that, on one of his journeys to and fro between Seville and Valladolid, he disposed of a manuscript which had passed through many hands before it found a publisher. This was the manuscript of Don Quixote.
The internal evidence of the book shows that Cervantes began hesitatingly and tentatively, intending to write a comparatively short story about a simple-hearted country-gentleman, mooning his years away in some secluded hamlet till his craze for chivalrous adventures led him into absurd situations which invited description in a spirit of broad farce. The opening words of the sixth chapter — El qual dormia — are awkwardly carried on from the fifth chapter, and they go to show that no division of material was originally contemplated. Moreover, we may say with some confidence that the existence of the accomplished Sancho Panza is the result of an afterthought; the idea probably occurred to Cervantes just after penning the innkeeper’s statement that knights were commonly attended by squires. And it is curious to remark that the author fails at first to visualize the figure of Sancho Panza; he falters in the attempt to draw the short, ventripotent rustic, and as late as the ninth chapter describes him as tall and long-shanked. A long-shanked Sancho! One would have said that such a being was inconceivable had not his creator first seen him in that strange form.
The writer’s primary aim was to parody a class of literature which, though no longer so much appreciated at court as in the days of Juan de Valdes, or at the time when it seemed natural to call California after the griffin-haunted island in Las Sergas de Esplandian still had its admirers in the provinces; and the parody is wholly admirable. But a mere parodist, as such, courts and even condemns himself to oblivion, and, almost necessarily, the more complete his success, the sooner he is forgotten by all save students: the books which he ridicules perish, and the burlesque dies with them. The very fact that Don Quixote survives is proof that it outgrew the author’s intention. Cervantes himself informs us that his book is, ‘from beginning to end, an attack upon the romances of chivalry,’ and we have no reason to justify us in rejecting this statement. Still we must interpret it in relation to other matters. Cervantes can never have meant to destroy so excellent an example of the feudal prose epic as Amadis de Gaula, a long romance which he must have known almost by heart: for in the twentieth chapter he draws attention to the minute circumstance that the taciturn Gasabel, the squire of Galaor, ‘ is only named once in the whole of that history, as long as it is truthful.’ And no man charges his memory with precise details of what he considers a mass of grotesque extravagances, of egotistical folly, and vapouring rant. The extravagances, the folly, and the rant which disfigure the works of such writers as Feliciano de Silva are destroyed for ever. What was sound and wholesome in the tales of chivalry is preserved in Don Quixote: preserved, illuminated, and ennobled by a puissant imagination playing upon a marvellously rich experience.
The Manchegan madman has his delusions, but he is deluded on one point only: in all other respects he touches the realities of life and he remains a perpetual model of conduct, dignified in disaster, magnanimous in victory, keen in perception, subtle in argument, wise in counsel. With him goes, as a foil to heroism, Sancho Panza, that embodiment of calculating cowardice, malicious humour, and prosaic common sense. This association of the man abounding in ideas with the slower-witted, vulgar, practical person, vaguely recalls the partnership of Peisthetairos and Euelpides; and Aristophanes himself has no happier touch than that which exhibits Sancho Panza, aware that his master is too mad to be depended on in any other matter, but yet convinced that he may certainly be trusted to provide the unnamed nebulous island which the shrewd, droll villager feels a statesmanlike vocation to govern. Can we wonder that the appearance of this enchanting pair was hailed with delight when the history of their sallies was published at Madrid early in 1605? We know that it was ‘the book of the year,’ that within some six months there were pirated editions in Portugal, a second edition in Madrid, a provincial edition at Valencia, and that by June people in Valladolid spoke of the adventurous knight and his squire as though both were proverbial characters. Other contemporary novels — Guzman de Alfarache, for instance — may have had a larger circulation; but the picaroon Guzman was (by comparison) merely the comet of a season, while the renown of the Ingenious Gentleman is more universal today than it has ever been. His fame soon spread beyond the Pyrenees, and in 1607 a Brussels publisher reprinted the original to meet the demands of the Spaniards in the Low Countries. The book was thus brought within reach of readers in the north of Europe, and they lost no time in profiting by their opportunity. There are signs of Don Quixote in France as early as 1608, but we may neglect them today, more especially as there are still earlier traces of the book in this country.
We read of Richard Coeur-de-Lion helping to defend Santarem against the Moors, of the Black Prince’s battles in Spain, of two or three thousand English pilgrims yearly visiting the shrine of Santiago de Compostela. But the literary connexion between the Peninsula and England was slight. Early in the fifteenth century Clemente Sanchez de Vercial translated Odo of Cheriton’s Narrationes under the title of El libro de los gatos; the Speculum Laicorum, an adaptation of Odo of Cheriton’s work commonly ascribed to John Hoveden, was translated into Spanish at about the same period; then too Gower’s Confessio Amantis was translated into Portuguese by Robert Payne, Canon of Lisbon, and, later, into Spanish by Juan de Cuenca; and the distinguished poet Francisco Imperial introduces English words into his verses. These few examples imply no great acquaintance with English literature, and we may say that there was practically no knowledge of Spanish literature in England till the beginning of the sixteenth century, when, in the year following the publication of Amadis de Gaula, Henry the Eighth married Catharine of Aragon. Spanish scholars visited London and Oxford, and though, as in the case of Vives, they may have censured some of the most popular Spanish books of the time, intercourse with them must naturally have awakened interest in the literature of their country. The results were seen in Lord Bemers’s renderings of works by Fernandez de San Pedro and Guevara, and Guevara found other translators in the persons of Bryan, North, Fenton, and Hellowes. Santillana was done into English by Barnabe Googe, who had already given versions of poems by Montemayor, Boscan, and Garcilaso de la Vega; Abraham Fraunce quoted the two latter poets in The Arcadian Rhetorike, Sidney versified songs by Montemayor, and there are translations of such devout writers as Luis de Granada. With histories, technical works and the like, I am not concerned here. It is more to our purpose to note that Amadis de Gaula was translated by Anthony Munday in 1589-95, and that it pleased readers to identify Gaula with Wales and to discover in the romance places so familiar to them as London, Windsor, and Bristol. Part of an earlier version by Lord Lennox exists in manuscript.
The ground was thus prepared for Cervantes, and the new parody of knight-errantry was certain to charm those who regretted that Chaucer’s tale of Sir Thopas had been so brusquely interrupted. In the very year that the Brussels edition made Don Quixote more easily available a translation of the book was begun by Thomas Shelton, finished in forty days, and then laid aside for four or five years; and that there were other more or less attentive readers of Don Quixote is shown by many passages in contemporary authors — passages which have been collected by investigators like Emil Koeppel. George Wilkins, though possibly responsible for the rough sketches elaborated by a far greater artist into Timon of Athens and Pericles, is not precisely a writer of impressive independence and originality: rather, indeed, is he one whose eyes are constantly on the weathercock, watching the direction of the popular breeze. It is therefore all the more significant that in the third act of The Miseries of Inforst Marriage, a play given in 1607, Wilkins should make the tipsy braggart William Scarborow say:
Boy, bear the torch fair: now am I armed to fight with a windmill, and to take the wall of an emperor.
‘To fight with a windmill!’ The expression betrays its source; it would be unmeaning to any one unacquainted with the eighth chapter in which Cervantes describes Don Quixote’s terrible adventure with the giants whom the wizard Friston had transformed into windmills upon the plain leading to Puerto Lapice. Wilkins was not the man to write above the heads of his audiences, and he clearly believed that they would catch the point of the allusion. The experiment was evidently successful, for, in the following year, Middleton repeated it in the fourth act of Your Fair Gallants presenting Pyamont exasperated at the loss of his forty pounds and furiously declaring:
I could fight with a windmill now.
A year or two passes and (probably about 1610) Ben Jonson in the fourth act of The Epicene causes Truewit to address Sir Dauphine Eugenie in these terms:
You must leave to live in your chamber, then, a month together upon Amadis de Gaul, or Don Quixote, as you are wont.
Manifestly the knight’s reputation was made, for within three years he took rank as the equal of his great predecessor, Amadis de Gaula, whose penance on the Pena Pobre (a locality which has been identified with the island of Jersey) he had imitated with such gusto on the Sierra Morena. That the reference was seized by the public is plain from its repetition next year by the same dramatist in the fourth act of The Alchemist, where Kastril vilifies Drugger as
a pimp and a trig.
And an Amadis de Gaul, or a Don Quixote.
To about this date (1611) is assigned the composition of Fletcher’s Coxcomb and Nathaniel Field’s Amends for Ladies, which are both based upon the story of the Curious Impertinent interpolated in Chapters XXXIII-XXXV of Don Quixote. You may perhaps remember that Lothario compares Anselmo’s wife, Camila, to ‘a diamond of the first water, whose excellence and purity had satisfied all the lapidaries that had seen it.’ Field preserves the simile in one of the speeches allotted to Sir John Love-all:
To the unskilful owner’s eyes alike
The Bristow sparkles as the diamond.
But by a lapidary the truth is found.
This same episode of the Curious Impertinent, which Lessing and other critics have found tedious, furnished the theme of The Second Maid’s Tragedy, a play variously ascribed to Goughe, to Chapman, to Shakespeare, and— with more probability — to Massinger and Tourneur: and here again the simile of the virtuous woman and the diamond is reproduced. Shelton’s translation was printed in 1612, and was speedily followed by a very frank adaptation of Don Quixote in The Knight of the Burning Pestle. Fletcher makes no attempt to disguise the source of his piece: but it is amusing to observe his anxiety to assure his public that he knows Spanish too well to need Shelton’s rendering, and that in fact his play had been completed a year before the prose version was published. In 1613 Robert Anton closes his Moriomachia with a reference to ‘ Mambrinoes inchaunted helmet ‘; and both the knight and the squire are mentioned later in Drayton’s Nimphidia.
This record is not meagre; but, since the ascription to Shakespeare of The Second Maid’s Tragedy is no longer maintained by any competent scholar, one mighty name is missing from the bederoll. Did Shakespeare know Don Quixote? The question is constantly asked, and the usual answer is that he could not have read the book because he knew no Spanish. I am reminded of the advice given to a newly appointed judge whose knowledge of law was rusty: ‘ Give your decision and it may be right; never give your reasons, for they are sure to be wrong.’ I do not dwell on the passage in Much Ado About Nothing which recalls Lazarillo de Tormes, nor on the points of resemblance between Montemayor’s Diana and the Two Gentlemen of Verona: they do not necessarily imply a knowledge of Spanish. But it is certain that Shakespeare might easily have known Don Quixote without knowing Spanish, for Shelton’s version was in print four years before Shakespeare died. Apart from this, however, the longer one lives the more chary one becomes of committing oneself to absolute statements as to what Shakespeare did, or did not, know. He may not have been an expert in Spanish: probably he was not. But he seems to have known enough to read a collection of dull stories published at Pamplona in 1609, and at Antwerp in 1610. This volume, never translated (so far as is known) into any other language, is the Noches de lnvierno of Antonio de Eslava, and the title of A Winter’s Tale is obviously taken from the title of the Spanish book. This, if it stood alone, might be explained away as an instance of unconscious reminiscence. However, as we have lately learned — from Dr. Garnett, amongst others — Shakespeare’s debt to Spain goes much beyond the mere borrowing of a title: for, from the fourth chapter of the Primera Noche de Invierno comes the plot of The Tempest, Prospero of Milan and his daughter Miranda being substituted for Dardano of Bulgaria and his daughter Serafina. All things considered, perhaps we should not dismiss too cavalierly a belated entry in the register of the Stationers’ Company: ‘ The History of Cardenio by Mr. Fletcher and Shakespeare, 20s.’ The lateness of the date (1653) deprives this entry of authority, and, as the play has vanished, it is impossible to discuss the question of its attribution; but we may plausibly conjecture that Shakespeare, or some younger contemporary, found material for yet another drama in the story told to Don Quixote by the tattered, distraught Andalusian gentleman whom he met wandering near the Venta de Cardenas on the northern slope of the Sierra Morena.
Meanwhile, though the presses of Spain, Italy, and the Low Countries continued to issue reprints of the original in 1608, 1610, and 1611 respectively, the author was in no haste to publish the continuation mentioned at the end of the First Part. There we are told that an academician of Argamasilla had succeeded in deciphering certain parchments containing Castilian verses, ‘ and that he means to publish them in hopes of Don Quixote’s third sally.’ The promise is vague, and, such as it is, the pious aspiration is perhaps neutralized by a final ambiguous verse from the Orlando furioso:
Forse altri cantera con miglior plettro.
These concluding sentences have given rise to so much controversy that I shall be justified in dwelling upon them for a moment. If we consider the text and the quotation from Ariosto together, the passage may be taken to mean that any one who chose was welcome to continue the story, or it may be construed as an announcement of Cervantes’s intention to publish a sequel himself. Now, in view of what happened afterwards, the significance of these phrases may seem obvious; but we are not entitled to interpret them solely in the light of subsequent events. The questions for us to answer are two: what did Cervantes intend to convey when he wrote the passage? and what interpretation might his contemporaries fairly put upon it? If he meant that any other writer was free to publish a continuation of Don Quixote, he had no cause for complaint when he was taken at his word. If he meant that he himself would issue the sequel, it is unfortunate that he did not say so with his customary plainness, and strange that he delayed so long in following up his triumph.
It was not till 1613, more than eight years after the appearance of the First Part, that he publicly announced the sequel as forthcoming. Any honourable man who was already engaged upon a continuation would have laid his work aside and left the original author in possession of the field. Unluckily the idea of continuing Don Quixote had occurred to an unscrupulous writer. It is no easy task to be just, in this matter, to Cervantes and to his competitor; for, while Cervantes is, so to say, the personal friend of each man amongst us, his obscure rival has contrived to lose the respect of the whole world. But it is our duty to attempt it. In the first place, then, let us bear in mind that Cervantes was often almost as optimistic as Don Quixote; the conception of a book flashed into his brain, and he looked upon the composition as a mere detail. In this very prologue which announces the Second Part of Don Quixote, Cervantes announces two other books: Los Trabajos de Persies y Sigismunda, which appeared posthumously, and Las Semanas del Jardin, which never appeared at all. Elsewhere he promises works to be entitled, El Engano a las ojos and Bernardo, and these never appeared either. During thirty-one years, on five separate occasions, he promised the sequel to La Galatea, and that also never appeared. It has been argued that, in announcing the sequel to Don Quixote, Cervantes is fairly categorical; he promises it ‘ shortly ‘ (con brevedad). He undoubtedly does; but the words are of evil omen, for he used the same formula when he first promised the continuation of La Galatea. In the second place, we cannot infer (as we might in the case of a punctilious precisian who weighed his words carefully) that the Second Part of Don Quixote was nearly completed when Cervantes referred to it in the preface to his Novelas exemplares, which was licensed on July 2, 1612. Far from it! He may not have written even a chapter of it at that date; he had not written half of it on July 20, 1614, the memorable day on which the newly fledged Governor, Sancho Panza, dictated his letter to his wife Teresa. It follows that, if Cervantes worked at anything like a uniform rate of speed, he cannot have begun the sequel till about January, 1614.
These circumstances, more or less attenuating, should be taken into consideration before passing sentence on Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda, who, in 1614, brought out a spurious continuation of Don Quixote, a clever, coarse performance, which, especially in Le Sage’s expanded version, has often been mistaken — by Pope, for instance, in the Essay on Criticism — for the authentic sequel, Avellaneda had a fair, or at least a plausible, case; but he completely ruined it by the ribaldry of his preface, in which he jeers at Cervantes’s misfortunes and alleged defects of character — his mutilation, his imprisonment, his poverty, his stammer, his jealousy, his lack of friends. These brutalities wounded Cervantes to the soul, and led him to conclude the Second Part of Don Quixote in all haste. Thus, quite unintentionally, the insolent railer probably saved the book from the fate which befell the sequel to La Galatea, and the other works already mentioned. Avellaneda deserves our ironical congratulations: he meant murder, but committed suicide.
Within a year of his intrusion the genuine continuation of Don Quixote was published, and it amply disproved the truth of Sanson Carrasco’s remark: ‘Second Parts are never good.’ Goethe and Hallam preferred the First Part, and unquestionably the Second is but a splendid development of what preceded it. Coleridge draws a characteristic distinction: ‘Who can have courage to attempt a reversal of the judgement of all criticism against continuations? Let us except Don Quixote, however, although the Second Part of that transcendent work is not exactly uno flatu with the original conception.’ The First Part is the more humorous and fantastic, the Second Part is the more ingenious and artistic; but nobody has ever contended that this Second Part was ‘not good,’ with the single exception of Lamb, who was betrayed into this freakish outburst: ‘Marry, when somebody persuaded Cervantes that he meant only fun, and put him upon writing that unfortunate Second Part, with the confederacies of that unworthy Duke and most contemptible Duchess, Cervantes sacrificed his instinct to his understanding.’ ‘Sacrificed his instinct to his understanding!’ It may amount to a confession of ineptitude, but I confess I am not nearly so sure as I could wish to be that I catch the precise meaning of this expression, and I prefer not to take it too seriously. It occurs in a letter addressed to Southey, and perhaps not even the most judicial of us would care to abide by every word let fall in the careless freedom of private correspondence. At any rate posterity has not accepted Lamb’s emphatic verdict. Nor did the writer’s contemporaries and immediate successors find anything but praise for the story of Don Quixote’s later exploits.
Cervantes lived just long enough to witness his triumph, and he needed all the solace that it could give him. Old and infirm, he was eclipsed in popular favour by the more dazzling and versatile genius of Lope de Vega, then in the meridian of his glory. We must distinguish between fame and popularity. Famous Cervantes was both in and out of Spain; he was not, like Lope, the idol of his countrymen. The greatest of all Spaniards, in life more than in death, Cervantes’s appeal was rather universal than national. He had survived most of his own generation, lived into a less heroic time, and, though he was no philosopher or sociologist, perhaps viewed with some misgivings the new society which had replaced the age of chivalry.
He look’d on the rushing decay
Of the times which had shelter’d his youth
Felt the dissolving throes
Of a social order he loved
Outlived his brethren, his peers;
And, like the Theban seer.
Died in his enemies’ day.
He died, in fact, on April 23, 1616 — nominally on the same day as Shakespeare, and we ask for nothing better than to be allowed to forget the difference between the calendars of Spain and England, and, adapting Homer, to say that in both countries the sun perished out of heaven at the same hour.
Before long the Second Part of Don Quixote reached England in the Brussels edition of 1616. Probably the earliest trace of it occurs about 1619 in the fifth act of The Double Marriage, where Fletcher and Massinger introduce a scene between the courtier Castruccio and the doctor which is unmistakably modelled after the account in the forty-seventh chapter of Pedro Recio de Agüero’s attempt to deprive Sancho Panza of his dinner. In 1620 the sequel to Don Quixote was brought directly before the English public in Shelton’s translation, and in this same year Thomas May, in the first act of The Heir, after making Clarimont refer to ‘the unjust disdain of the lady Dulcinea del Toboso,’ describes Amadis de Gaula and Don Quixote as ‘ brave men whom neither enchantments, giants, windmills, nor flocks of sheep, could vanquish.’ This, of course, is from the First Part; but in 1620 Fletcher inserted one detail from the Second Part in The Pilgrim, and, in 1623, the second act of Massinger’s play The Duke of Milan reveals Mariana taunting her sister-in-law Marcelia with suffering from an issue: a reminiscence of the scandal about the Duchess confided to Don Quixote’s reluctant ear by Dona Rodriguez in the forty-eighth chapter of the Second Part.
In the third decade of the seventeenth century writers in search of a theme sought it oftener in the Novelas exemplares than in Don Quixote. For instance, in 1621-2 Middleton and Rowley based The Spanish Gipsie on La Gitanilla and La Fuerza de la Sangre. A more assiduous follower of Cervantes was Fletcher, who in 1619 derived The Queen of Corinth from La Fuerza de la Sangre; in 1621, collaborating with Massinger, Fletcher based A Very Woman on El Amante liberal; in 1622 he inserted in The Beggars’ Bush some touches from La Gitanilla; in 1623, perhaps aided once more by Massinger, he produced Love’s Pilgrimage from Las dos Doncellas; in 1624 El Casamiento enganoso yielded him Rule a Wife and have a Wife; in 1625-6 he transformed La Ilustre Fregona into The Fair Maid of the Inn; in 1628 he went afield to take The Custom of the Country from Cervantes’s posthumous romance, Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda; but he returned later to the Novelas exemplares and dramatized La Senora Cornelia as The Chances. A still more convincing proof of English interest concerning Cervantes’s writings is afforded by the fact that Massinger in 1624 wrote The Renegade in view of the set drama entitled Los Banos de Argel, and The Fatal Dowry in 1632 showed a knowledge of the entremes entitled El Viejo celoso. It was comparatively easy for Fletcher to read the Novelas exemplares in the Brussels edition of 1614; but, as the volume of plays issued by Cervantes in 1615 was not reprinted till 1749, it is evident that Massinger must have taken the trouble to procure a copy of the Madrid princeps—a difficult matter at that date.
This fashion ran its course, as you may read in the Master of Peterhouse’s admirable History of English Dramatic Literature; and, in due time, English writers went back to Don Quixote. In 1630 Davenant printed The Cruel Brother, borrowing from Cervantes the name of one personage and the characteristics of another:
Lothario; a Country Gentleman
But now the Court Baboone, who persuades himselfe
(Out of a new kind of madness) to be
The Duke’s favourite. He comes. Th’ other is
A bundle of proverbs, whom he seduc’d
From the plough, to serve him for preferment.
In 1635 an allusion to the ‘good knight of the ill favor’d Countenance’ is used to ornament the third act of The Lady Mother by Henry Glapthorne, a dramatist of no great repute, whose Wit in a Constable, published four years afterwards, contains Clare’s intimidating question to Sir Timothy Shallowwit:
Is it you,
Sir Knight of the ill favor’ d face,
That would have me for your Dulcinea?
In 1640 appeared James Mabbe’s fragmentary version of the Novelas exemplares which Godwin esteemed as ‘perhaps the most perfect specimen of prose in the English language.’ It is enough to call it admirable. But let me say frankly that I have two grudges against Mabbe: one because he omits six of the novels, perhaps the best in the collection: the other because, though he resided in Madrid from 1611 to 1613 as a member of Digby’s mission, he apparently took no trouble to meet Cervantes and gives us no information concerning him. Surely this is one of those rare cases in which all but the most austere of men would welcome a little ‘personal’ journalism.
‘I have almost forgot my Spanish, but after a little may recover it,’ says Riches in Shirley’s masque A Contention for Honour and Riches, which dates from 1632; and perhaps Riches here speaks for the modest author. However that may be, Shirley knew enough Spanish to utilize Tirso de Molina in his Opportunity and Lope de Vega in The Young Admiral; hence it is not surprising that, when recasting his masque in 1652 under the title of Honoria and Mammon, he should introduce the ‘forehead of Dulcinea of Toboso ‘ into the fifth act. The Double Falsehood, based on Cardenio’s story and ascribed by Lewis Theobald to Shakespeare, has been conjecturally attributed to Shirley; but this is doubtful. During the Protectorate the only contribution specially interesting to the student of Cervantes is the curious, festive commentary by Gayton whose Pleasant Notesupon Don Quixote are still well worth reading. The Restoration was barely accomplished when in 1663 Butler launched the first part of Hudibras, a witty, pointed, violent lampoon written in imitation of Cervantes, but with blustering humour and rancorous jibes substituted for the serene grace and bland satire of the master. In 1671 Aphra Behn’s play The Amorous Prince showed how much that was objectionable could be infused into the story of the Curious Impertinent, but Aphra Behn was outdone in 1694 and 1696 by D’Urfey whose Comical History of Don Quixote provoked Collier’s famous Short View of the Immorality and Profaneness of the English Stage. It is one of life’s ironies that this fulminating protest should have been called forth by a work professedly derived from Cervantes who justly prided himself on the morality of his writings.
D’Urfey was left to bear the burden of his sins: Cervantes’s vogue in England continued unchecked. Temple proclaimed Don Quixote to be, as satire, ‘the best and highest strain that ever has been, or will be, reached by that vein.’ Spence tells us that Orford’s inquiry whether Rowe knew Spanish led the latter to study the language, perhaps in the hope that it might lead to the Embassy at Madrid. Having mastered Spanish, Rowe announced the fact to Orford who drily said: ‘Then, sir, I envy you the pleasure of reading Don Quixote in the original.’ And no doubt Rowe did read it, and hence a line in The Fair Penitent which use has converted into a tag:
Is this that haughty, gallant, gay Lothario?
Addison gave a somewhat lukewarm allegiance to Cervantes in The Whig Examiner (No. 3) and in The Guardian (No. 135), as well as in The Spectator (Nos. 227 and 249), linking Don Quixote with Hudibras, and talking (not very acutely) of ‘mean Persons in the Accoutrements of Heroes.’ Steele did better when he promoted ‘the accomplish’d Spaniard’ to be patron of the Set of Sighers in the University of Oxford. In 1719 Arbuthnot unsuccessfully attempted to imitate Don Quixote in his short Life and Adventures of Don Bilioso de l’Estomac. Some biographers of Swift suggest that A Tale of a Tub is modelled upon Don Quixote; I see no trace of direct imitation, and nothing could be further apart than the Englishman’s splenetic gloom and the Spaniard’s delicate charm, but I admit that the unadorned diction and sustained irony of Swift recalls one of Cervantes’s many manners.
A passage in the Characteristics of the third Earl of Shaftesbury is worth quoting: ‘Had I been a Spanish Cervantes and, with success equal to that comic Author, had destroyed the reigning taste of Gothic or Moorish Chivalry, I could afterwards contentedly have seen my burlesque itself despised and set aside.’ This utterance is interesting, for it implies that in 1703 Cervantes was still considered to be essentially a ‘comic Author.’ But a reference in The Dunciad to ‘Cervantes’s serious air’ shows that Pope had a truer insight into the significance of a book which, as I have already said, he began by reading in Le Sage’s amplification of Avellaneda. Henceforward, Cervantes becomes less and less regarded as a purely ‘comic Author.’ As far back as 1730 Fielding in the second act of The Coffee-House Politician declared that ‘the greatest part of Mankind labour under one delirium or another, and Don Quixote differed from the rest, not in Madness, but the species of it.’ Fielding’s play Don Quixote in England dates from 1734 and, poor as it is, it is a tribute to a great predecessor, a tribute paid more abundantly eight years later in the History and Adventures of Joseph Andrews where Parson Adams appears as an unmistakable descendant of Don Quixote’s. The Female Quixote, an imitation by Charlotte Lennox which was published in 1752, is praised by Fielding in the Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon, and was lauded by Samuel Johnson, who thought that Cervantes’s book had no superior but the Iliad. Sterne ranked Cervantes even above his other favourite, Rabelais, but we should have guessed this without Sterne’s personal assurance, for page after page of Tristram Shandy is redolent of Don Quixote. Though the title of The Adventures of Sir Launcelot Greaves proves that Smollett had the Spanish book in view, the imitation is wholly unworthy of the model, and in The Expedition of Humphrey Clinker the resemblance which we are told existed between Lieutenant Lismahago and the Knight of La Mancha is merely physical. Smollett’s imitative fiction is comparatively a failure but, as I shall show in an instant, he was a warm admirer of Don Quixote, and did Cervantes good service in another field. To that field I shall now turn, for The Spiritual Quixote of Richard Graves, published in 1773, and similar productions of this period have lost whatever interest they may once have had.
During the eighteenth century there were numerous attempts in England to promote the serious study of Cervantes’s works by means which cannot fail to interest a learned audience. We have seen that the earliest translation of the First Part of Don Quixote was published at London in 1612 by Shelton: Shelton’s version of both parts was reprinted in 1731, and was also issued in a revised form by Captain John Stevens in 1700 and 1706. In 1687, Milton’s nephew, John Philips, had published a miserable travesty of the original, and in 1700 the French refugee, Peter Motteux, brought out a readable version, which is based on Shelton’s rendering, and checked by constant comparison with the French translation of Filleau de Saint-Martin. Motteux’ version, which included the earliest biographical sketch of Cervantes, is still reprinted, less on account of its own merits than because of the excellent preface which Lockhart wrote for it in 1822. But it was felt that these publications were unworthy of English scholarship. As Shelton was the first man to translate Don Quixote, so a London publisher, Jacob Tonson, was the first to produce a handsome edition of the original, which put to shame the sorry reprints issued in Spain and elsewhere. Tonson’s edition, published in 1738, was based upon the Brussels reimpressions of 1607 and 1611, was revised by Pedro de Pineda, and was preceded by the first formal biography of Cervantes ever issued. This life was written by the most eminent Spanish scholar of the age, Gregorio Mayans y Siscar, who received the commission from the English ex-Secretary of State, Lord Carteret. In 1742 the painter, Charles Jervas, published a new rendering of Don Quixote, in some important respects an advance on previous versions. Spence records Pope’s perfidious remark that his friend Jervas ‘translated Don Quixote without understanding Spanish.’ The charge is absurd: Jervas’s knowledge of Spanish is beyond cavil. His English style is thought inadequate by critics, and his rendering is neglected by his later rivals; but innumerable cheap reproductions prove that it satisfies a multitude of less exacting readers. Jervas’s version was likewise of great service to Smollett who utilized it extensively when engaged upon the translation which he issued in 1755; and the preface to this translation is exceptionally interesting, for here Smollett pointed out, six years before the point had occurred to any Spaniard, that the prisoner Cervantes, mentioned as a native of Alcala de Henares in Diego de Haedo’s Topografia e Historia de Argel, must be the author of Don Quixote. This detail, which was also made public at about the same time by Colonel Windham, practically settled the dispute as to Cervantes’s birthplace, A far more valuable contribution to students of Cervantes was the first commentary on Don Quixote ever published: this was issued in 1781 by John Bowie, vicar of Idmiston, who has done more to elucidate Cervantes’s masterpiece than any other commentator, with the possible exception of Clemencin. Envy and detraction did their worst in Barretti’s venomous Tolondron; but in vain, for all the world over ‘Don Bowie,’ as his friends affectionately called him, is held in honour by every student of Spanish literature.
With the last century we reach ground familiar to all. It would be an endless and superfluous task to trace the allusions to Cervantes’s great book in English literature of the nineteenth century. Byron tells us in Don Juan that Adeline, like Rowe,
To read Don Quixote in the original,
A pleasure before which all others vanish.
And her example was widely followed. Yet we may take it as certain that imperfect translations suggested the characters of Sam Weller, that Cockney variant of Sancho Panza, and of Colonel Thomas Newcome. ‘They call him Don Quixote in India,’ said General Sir Thomas de Boots, ‘I suppose you have read Don Quixote? ‘ Never heard of it, upon my word,’ replied Barnes Newcome, whose only contribution to literature was a Lecture on the Poetry of the Affections. But Hazlitt had heard of Don Quixote, and Southey, Scott, Lockhart, Macaulay, and FitzGerald knew the original well. Macaulay esteemed it ‘the best novel in the world, beyond all comparison,’ and found it even ‘prodigiously superior to what I had imagined,’ while to FitzGerald it became ‘ the Book.’ I believe that it is included in the Bibliotheque Positiviste, and that Comte placed Cervantes himself in the Positivist Calendar. We have not yet made Cervantes our national saint, but no one has written more delightfully of him than that distinguished Positivist, Mr. Frederic Harrison; and the greatest of our romance writers, Mr. George Meredith, celebrates with enthusiasm Cervantes’s ‘loftiest moods of humour, fusing the tragic sentiment with the comic narrative.’ The publication of three new and independent versions by Duffield, Ormsby, and Watts, in 1881, 1885, and 1888 respectively, is convincing proof of our unabated interest in Don Quixote. Two large quarto volumes — quorum pars parva fui — containing the first critical edition of the original appeared at the very end of the nineteenth century, and, if they indicate nothing else, at least imply a boundless belief in the future of Hhe Book’; and the only satisfactory rendering of the Novelas exemplares, due to Mr. Norman MacColl whom death has so recently snatched from us, figures in a translation of Cervantes’s Complete Works which was begun in the first year of the twentieth century.
This brings my prolix exposition to a close. I have laid before you a body of facts to justify the assertions with which I began. I have shown that England was the first foreign country to mention Don Quixote, the first to translate the book, the first country in Europe to present it decently garbed in its native tongue, the first to indicate the birthplace of the author, the first to provide a biography of him, the first to publish a commentary on Don Quixote, and the first to issue a critical edition of the text. I have shown that during three centuries English literature teems with significant allusions to the creations of Cervantes’s genius, that the greatest English novelists are among his disciples, and that English poets, dramatists, scholars, critics, agreed upon nothing else, are unanimous and fervent in their admiration of him. ‘There is an everlasting undercurrent of murmur about his name, the deep consent of all great men that he is greater than they.’ That, Lord Reay, is my case: it is for you and your colleagues in the British Academy to judge if I have proved it.