Gavilan College celebrates 400 years of Don Quijote

Don Quixote de la Mancha, translated by Charles Jarvis

Gavilan Spanish Questions or comments  Bibliographic Record Index page Previous page Bottom Next page   


The Life and Exploits
of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha

By Miguel de Cervantes, Translated by Charles Jarvis, Esq.

The First Part

Author's Preface to the First Part


You may believe me without an oath, gentle reader, that I wish this book, as the child of my brain, were the most beautiful, the most sprightly, and the most ingenious that can be imagined. But I could not control the order of nature, whereby each thing engenders its like; and therefore what could my sterile and uncultivated genius produce but the history of a child, meagre, adust, and whimsical, full of various wild imaginations never thought of before: like one you may suppose born in a prison, (1) where every inconvenience keeps its residence and every dismal sound its habitation! whereas repose of body, a desirable situation, unclouded skies, and above all, a mind at ease, can make the most barren Muses fruitful, and produce such offsprings to the world as fill it with wonder and content. It often falls out that a parent has an ugly child, without any good quality; and yet fatherly fondness claps such a bandage over his eyes that he cannot see its defects; on the contrary, he takes them for wit and pleasantry, aj}d recounts them to his friends for smartness and humour. But I, though I seem to be the father, being really but the step-father of Don Quixote, will not go down with the stream of custom, nor beseech you, almost as it were with tears in my eyes, as others do, dearest reader, to pardon or dissemble the faults you shall discover in this my child. You are neither his kinsman nor friend; you have your soul in your body, and your will as free as the bravest of them all, and are as much lord and master of your own house as the king of his subsidies, and know the common saying, Under my cloak a fig for the king. All which exempts and frees you from every regard and obligation; and therefore you may say of this history whatever you think fit, without fear of being calumniated for the evil, or rewarded for the good you shall say of it.

Only I would give it you neat and naked, without the ornament of a preface, or the rabble and catalogue of the accustomed sonnets, epigrams, and encomiums that are wont to be placed at the beginning of books. For, let me tell you, though it cost me some pains to write it, I reckoned none greater than the writing of this preface you are now reading. I often took pen in hand, and as often laid it down, not knowing what to say; and once upon a time, being in deep suspense with the paper before me, the pen behind my ear, my elbow on the table, and my cheek on my hand, thinking what I should say, unexpectedly in came a friend of mine, a pleasant gentleman, and of a very good understanding, who, seeing me so pensive, asked me the cause of my musing. Not willing to conceal it from him, I answered that I was musing on what preface I should make to "Don Quixote," and that I was so much at a stand about it, that I intended to make none at all, nor publish the achievements of that noble knight.

''For, would you have me not be concerned at what that ancient lawgiver, the vulgar, will say when they see me, at the end of so many years, slept away in the silence of oblivion, appear with all my years upon my back, with a legend as dry as a kex, empty of invention, the style flat, the conceits poor, and void of all learning and erudition; without quotations in the margin, or annotations at -[XII]- the end of the book; seeing that other books, though fabulous and profane, are so full of sentences of Aristotle, of Plato, and of all the tribe of philosophers, that the readers are in admiration, and take the authors of them for men of great reading, learning, and eloquence? For when they cite the Holy Scriptures, they pass for so many St Thomas's and doctors of the church; observing herein a decorum so ingenious, that in one line they describe a raving lover, and in another give you a little scrap of a Christian homily, that it is a delight and a perfect treat to hear or read it. All this my book is likely to want; for I have nothing to quote in the margin, nor to make notes on at the end; nor do I know what authors I have followed in it, to put them at the beginning, as all others do, by the letters A, B, C, beginning with Aristotle, and ending at Xenophon, Zoilus, or Zeuxis, though the one was a railer, and the other a painter. My book will also want sonnets at the beginning, at least such sonnets whose authors are dukes, marquises, earls, bishops, ladies, or celebrated poets; though, should I desire them of two or three obliging friends, I know they would furnish me, and with such, as those of greater reputation in our Spain could not equal. In short, my dear friend, "continued I, "it is resolved that Signor Don Quixote remain buried in the records of la Mancha, until Heaven sends somebody to supply him with such ornaments as he wants; for I find myself incapable of helping him, through my own insufficiency and want of learning; and because I am naturally too idle and lazy to hunt after authors, to say what I can say as well without them. Hence proceeds the suspense and thoughtfulness you found me in, sufficiently occasioned by what I have told you."

My friend, at hearing this, striking his forehead with the palm of his hand, and setting up a loud laugh, said: "Before God, brother, I am now perfectly undeceived of a mistake I have been in ever since I knew you, still taking you for a discreet and prudent person in all your actions; but now I see you are as far from being so as Heaven is from earth. For how is it possible that things of such little moment, and so easy to be remedied, can have the power to puzzle and confound a genius so ripe as yours, and so made to break through and trample upon greater difficulties? In faith, this does not spring from want of ability, but from an excessive laziness and penury of right reasoning. Will you see whether what I say be true? Then listen attentively, and you shall perceive, that in the twinkling of an eye, I will confound all your difficulties, and remedy all the defects that you say, suspend and deter you from introducing into the world the history of this your famous 'Don Quixote,' the light and mirror of all knight-errantry."

"Say on, "replied I, hearing what he said to me: "after what manner do you think to fill up the vacuity made by my fear, and reduce the chaos of my confusion to clearness?" To which he answered, "The first thing you seem to stick at, concerning the sonnets, epigrams, and eulogies, that are wanting for the beginning, and should be the work of grave personages and people of quality, may be remedied by taking some pains yourself to make them, and then baptizing them, giving them what names you please, fathering them on Prester John of the Indies, or on the Emperor of Trapisonda; of whom I have certain intelligence that they are both famous poets; and though they were not such, and though some pedants and bachelors should backbite you, and murmur at this truth, value them not two farthings: for though they should convict you of a lie, they cannot cut off the hand (2) that wrote it. -[XIII]-

"As to citing in the margin the books and authors from whom you collected the sentences and sayings you have interspersed in your history, there is no more to do but to contrive it so, that some sentences and phrases may fall in pat, which you have by heart, or at least which will cost you very little trouble to find. As for example, treating of liberty and slavery:

'Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro.'

And then in the margin cite Horace, or whoever said it . If you are treating of the power of death, presently you have:

'Pallida mors aequo puisāt pede
Pauperum tabernas regumque turres.'

If of friendship and loving our enemies, as God enjoins, go to the Holy Scripture; if you have never so little curiosity, and set down God's own words:

'Ego autem dico vobis, Diligite inimicos vestros.'

If you are speaking of evil thoughts, bring in the gospel again:

'De corde exeunt cogitationes malae.'

On the instability of friends, Cato will lend you his distich:

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

And so, with these scraps of Latin and the like, it is odds but people will take you for a great grammarian, which is a matter of no small honour and advantage in these days. As to clapping annotations at the end of the book, you may do it safely in this manner. If you name any giant in your book, see that it be the giant Goliath; and with this alone (which will cost almost nothing), you have a grand annotation; for you may put: The giant Golias, or Goliat, was a Philistine, whom the shepherd David slew with a great blow of a stone from a sling in the valley of Terebinthus, as it is related in the Book of Kings, in the chapter wherein you shall find it.

"Then, to show yourself a great humanist, and skilful in cosmography, let the river Tagus be introduced into the history, and you will gain another notable annotation, thus: The river Tagus was so called from a certain king of Spain; it has its source in such a place, and is swallowed up in the ocean, first kissing the walls of the famous city of Lisbon: and some are of opinion, its sands are of gold, etc. If you have occasion to treat of robbers, I will tell you the story of Cacus, for I have it by heart. If you write of courtesans, there is the Bishop of Mondonedo will lend you a Lamia, Lais, and Flora, and this annotation must needs be very much to your credit. If you would tell of cruel women, Ovid will bring you acquainted with Medea. If enchanters and witches are your subject, Homer has a Calypso, and Virgil a Circe. If you would give us a history of valiant commanders, Julius Caesar gives you himself in his Commentaries, and Plutarch will furnish you with a thousand Alexanders. If you treat of love, and have but two ounces of the Tuscan tongue, you will light on Leon Hebreo, who will give you enough of it. And if you care not to visit foreign parts, you have at home Fonseca, 'Of the Love of God,' where he describes all that you or the most ingenious persons can imagine upon that fruitful subject. In short, there is no more to be done but naming these names, or hinting these stories in your book, and let me alone to settle the annotations and quotations; for I will warrant to fill the margins for you, and enrich the end of your book with half a dozen leaves into the bargain. -[XIV]-

We come now to the catalogue of authors set down in other books that is wanting in yours. The remedy whereof is very easy; for you have nothing to do but to find a book that has them all, from A down to Z, as you say, and then transcribe that very alphabet into your work; and suppose the falsehood be ever so apparent, from the little need you have to make use of them, it signifies nothing; and perhaps some will be so foolish as to believe you had occasion for them all in your simple and sincere history. But though it served for nothing else, that long catalogue of authors will, however, at the first blush, give some authority to the book. And who will go about to disprove whether you followed them or no, seeing they can get nothing by it?

"After all, if I take the thing right, this book of yours has no need of these ornaments you say it wants; for it is only an invective against the books of chivalry, which sort of books Aristotle never dreamed of, St Basil never mentioned, nor Cicero once heard of. Nor does the relation of its fabulous extravagances fall under the punctuality and preciseness of truth; nor do the observations of astrology come within its sphere: nor have the dimensions of geometry, or the rhetorical arguments of logic, anything to do with it; nor has it any concern with preaching, mixing the human with the divine, a kind of mixture which no Christian judgment should meddle with. All it has to do is to copy nature: imitation is the business, and how much the more perfect that is, so much the better what is written will be. And since this writing of yours aims at no more than to destroy the authority and acceptance the books of chivalry have had in the world, and that among the vulgar, you have no business to go begging sentences of philosophers, passages of holy writ, poetical fables, rhetorical orations, or miracles of saints; but only to endeavour with plainness, and insignificant, decent, and well-ordered words, to give your periods a pleasing and harmonious turn, expressing the design in all you advance, and as much as possible making your conceptions clearly understood, without being intricate or obscure. Endeavour also that by reading your history the melancholy may be provoked to laugh, the gay humour be heightened, and the simple not tired; that the judicious may admire the invention, the grave not undervalue it, nor the wise forbear commending it. In conclusion, carry your aim steady to overthrow that ill-compiled machine of books of chivalry, abhorred by many, but applauded by more; and, if you carry this point, you gain a considerable one."

I listened with great silence to what my friend said to me, and his words made so strong an impression upon me, that I approved them without disputing, and out of them chose to compose this Preface, wherein, sweet reader, you will discern the judgment of my friend, my own good hap in finding such a counsellor at such a pinch, and your own ease in receiving, in so sincere and unostentatious a manner, the history of the famous Don Quixote de la Mancha; of whom it is clearly the opinion of all the inhabitants of the district of the field of Montiel, that he was the chastest lover, and the most valiant knight that has been seen in those parts for many years. I will not enhance the service I do you in bringing you acquainted with so notable and so worthy a knight; but I beg the favour of some small acknowledgment for the acquaintance of the famous Sancho Panza, his squire, in whom I think I have deciphered all the squirelike graces that are scattered up and down in the whole rabble of books of chivalry. And so, God give you health, not forgetting me. Farewell.


Gavilan College celebrates 400 years of Don Quijote

Don Quixote de la Mancha, translated by Charles Jarvis

Gavilan Spanish Questions or comments Bibliographic Record Index page Previous page Top Next page