Gavilan College celebrates 400 years of Don Quijote

Don Quixote de la Mancha, translated by Charles Jarvis

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-[273]-

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
 

CHAPTER XLVIII: In which the Canon prosecutes the Subject of Books of Chivalry, with other Matters worthy of his Genius.

 

"It is as you say, Sir," replied the priest to the canon; "and for this reason those who have hitherto composed such books, are the more to blame, proceeding, as they do, without any regard to good sense, or art, or to those rules, by the observation of which they might become as famous in prose as the two princes of the Greek and Latin poetry are in verse." "I myself," answered the canon, "was once tempted to write a book of knight-errantry, in which I purposed to observe all the restrictions I have mentioned; and, to confess the truth, I had gone through above a hundred sheets of it; and, to try whether they answered my own opinion of them, I communicated them to some learned and judicious persons, who were very fond of this kind of reading, and to other persons who were ignorant, and regarded only the pleasure of reading extravagances; and I met with a kind approbation from all of them: nevertheless, I would proceed no farther, as well because I looked upon it as a thing foreign to my profession, as because the number of the unwise is greater than that of the prudent: and though it is better to be praised by the few wise, than mocked by a multitude of fools, yet I am unwilling to expose myself to the confused judgment of the giddy vulgar, to whose lot the reading such books, for the most part, falls. But that which chiefly moved me to lay it aside, and to think no more of finishing it, was an argument I formed to myself, deduced from the modern comedies that are daily represented, saying: If all or most of those now in fashion, whether fictitious or historical, are known absurdities, and things without head or tail, and yet the vulgar take a pleasure in listening to them, and maintain and approve them for good; and the authors who compose, and the actors who represent them, say, such they must be, because the people will have them so, and no otherwise; and those which are regular, and carry on the plot according to the rules of art, serve only for half a score of men of sense, who understand them, while all the rest are at a loss, and can make nothing of the contrivance; and for their part it is better for them to get bread by the many, than reputation by the few: thus, probably, it would have fared with my book, after I had burnt my eyebrows with poring over the aforesaid precepts, and I should have got nothing but my labour for my pains.(110) And though I have often endeavoured to convince the actors of their mistake, and that they would draw more company, and gain more credit, by acting plays written according to art, than by such ridiculous pieces, they are so attached and wedded to their own opinion, that no reason, nor even demonstration, can wrest it from them. I remember, that talking one day to one of these headstrong fellows, 'Tell me,' said I, 'do you not remember, that a few years ago there were three tragedies acted in Spain, composed by a famous poet of this kingdom, which were such, that they surprised, delighted, and raised the admiration of all who saw them, as well the ignorant as the judicious, as well the vulgar as the better sort; and that these alone got the players more money than any thirty of the best that have been written since?' 'Doubtless,' answered the actor, 'your worship means the "Isabella," "Phyllis," and "Alexandra."' The same,' replied I;' and pray see whether they did not carefully observe the rules of art, and whether that -[274]- hindered them from appearing what they really were, and from pleasing all the world. So that the fault is not in the people's coveting absurdities, but in those who know not how to exhibit anything better. For there is nothing absurd in the play of "Ingratitude Revenged," nor in the "Numantia;" nor can you find any in the "Merchant Lover," much less in the "Favourable She-enemy," and in some others, composed by ingenious and judicious poets, to their own fame and renown, and to the advantage of those who acted them.' And to these I added other reasons, at which I fancied he was somewhat confounded, but not convinced nor satisfied, so as to make him retract his erroneous opinion."

"Signor Canon," said the priest, "you have touched upon a subject which has awakened in me an old grudge I bear to the comedies now in vogue, equal to that I have against books of chivalry; for, as comedy, according to the opinion of Cicero, ought to be a mirror of human life, an exemplar of manners, and an image of truth; those that are represented now are mirrors of inconsistency, patterns of folly, and images of wantonness. For what greater absurdity can there be in the subject we are treating of, than for a child to appear, in the first scene of the first act, in swaddling-clothes, and in the second enter a grown man with a beard? And what can be more ridiculous than to draw the character of an old man valiant, a young man a coward, a footman a rhetorician, a page a privy- counsellor, a king a water-carrier, and a princess a scullion? Then what shall we say to their observance of the time and place, in which the actions they represent are supposed to have happened? I have seen a comedy, the first act of which was laid in Europe, the second in Asia, and the third in Africa; and, had there been four acts,(111) the fourth would doubtless have concluded in America; and so the play would have taken in all the four parts of the world. If imitation be the principal thing required in comedy, how is it possible any tolerable understanding can endure to see an action, which passed in the time of King Pepin or Charlemagne, ascribed to the Emperor Heraclius, who is introduced carrying the cross into Jerusalem, or recovering the holy sepulchre, like Godfrey of Bouillon, numberless years having passed between these actions; and besides, the comedy being grounded upon a fiction, to see truths applied out of history, with a mixture of facts relating to different persons and times; and all this with no appearance of probability, but, on the contrary, full of manifest and altogether inexcusable errors? But the worst of it is, that some are so besotted as to call this perfection, and to say that all besides is mere pedantry. If we come to the comedies upon divine subjects, how many false miracles do they invent, how many apocryphal and ill-understood, ascribing to one saint the miracles of another? And, even in the plays upon profane subjects, the authors take upon them to work miracles, for no other reason in the world but because they think such a miracle will do well, and make a figure in such a place, that ignorant people may admire, and be induced to see the comedy. Now all this is to the prejudice of truth, and discredit of history, and even to the reproach of our Spanish wits; for foreigners, who observe the laws of comedy with great punctuality, take us for barbarous and ignorant, seeing the absurdities and extravagances of those we write. It would not be a sufficient excuse to say, that the principal intent of well-governed commonwealths, in permitting plays to be acted, is, that the populace may be entertained with some innocent recreation, to divert, at times, the ill-humour which idleness is -[275]- wont to produce; and, since this end may be attained by any play, whether good or bad, there is no need of prescribing laws, or confining those who write or act them, to the strict rules of composition, since, as I have said, any of them serve to compass the end proposed by them. To this I would answer, that this end is, beyond all comparison, much better attained by those that are good than by those that are not so: for the hearer, after attending to an artful and well-contrived play, would go away diverted by what is witty, instructed by what is serious, wondering at the incidents, improved by the reasoning, forewarned by the frauds, made wise by the examples, incensed against vice, and in love with virtue; for a good comedy will awaken all these passions in the mind of the hearer, let him never be so gross or stupid. And, of all impossibilities, it is the most so not to be pleased, entertained, and satisfied much more with that comedy which has all these requisites, than by one which is defective in them, as most of our comedies now are. Nor is this abuse to be charged chiefly on the poets themselves; for there are some among them who know very well wherein they err, and are perfectly acquainted with what they ought to do; but as plays are made a saleable commodity they say, and they say right, that the actors would not buy them if they were not of that stamp; and therefore the poet endeavours to accommodate himself to what is required by the player, who is to pay him for his work. And that this is the truth may be evinced by the infinite number of plays composed by a most happy genius of these kingdoms, with so much sprightliness, such elegant verse, expressions so good, and such excellent sentiments, and lastly, with such richness of elocution, and loftiness of style, that the world resounds with his fame. Yet, by his sometimes adapting himself to the taste of the actors, they have not all reached that point of perfection that some of them,(112) have done. Others, in writing plays, so little consider what they are doing, that the actors are often under a necessity of absconding for fear of being punished, as has frequently happened, for having acted things to the prejudice of the crown, or the dishonour of families. But all these inconveniences, and many more I have not mentioned, would cease, if some intelligent and judicious person of the court were appointed to examine all plays before they are acted, not only those made about the court, but all that should be acted throughout all Spain; without whose approbation under hand and seal, the civil officers should suffer no play to be acted; and thus the comedians would be obliged to send all their plays to the court, and might then act them with entire safety; and the writers of them would take more care and pains about what they did, knowing their performances must pass the rigorous examination of somebody that understands them. By this method good plays would be written, and the design of them happily attained; namely, the entertainment of the people, the reputation of the wits of Spain, the interest and security of the players, and the saving the magistrate the trouble of chastising them. And if some other or the same person, were commissioned to examine the books of chivalry that shall be written for the future, without doubt some might be published with all the perfection you speak of, enriching our language with the pleasing and precious treasure of eloquence, and might cause the old books to be laid aside, being obscured by the lustre of the new ones which would come out, for the innocent amusement not only of the idle, but also of those who have most business; for the bow cannot possibly stand always bent, nor can human nature, or human frailty, subsist without some lawful recreation." -[276]-

Thus far had the canon and the priest proceeded in their dialogue, when the barber coming up to them, said to the priest: "Here, Signor Licentiate, is the place I told you was proper for us to pass the heat of the day in, and where the cattle would have fresh grass in abundance." "I think so too," answered the priest; and acquainting the canon with his intention, he also would stay with them, invited by the beauty of a pleasant valley, which presented itself to their view; and therefore, that he might enjoy the pleasure of the place and the conversation of the priest, of whom he began to be fond, and be informed likewise more particularly of Don Quixote's exploits, he ordered some of his servants to go to the inn, which was not far off, and bring from thence what they could find to eat for the whole company; for he resolved to stay there that afternoon. Upon this one of the servants answered that the sumpter-mule, which by that time must have reached the inn, carried provisions enough for them all, and that they need take nothing at the inn but barley. "Since it is so," said the canon, "take thither the other mules, and bring back the sumpter hither."

While this passed, Sancho, perceiving he might talk to his master without the continual presence of the priest and the barber, whom he looked upon as suspicious persons, came up to his master's cage, and said to him: "Sir, to disburden my conscience, I must tell you something about this enchantment of yours; and it is this, that they, who are riding along with us, and with their faces covered, are the priest and the barber of our town; and I fancy they have played you this trick, and are carrying you in this manner, out of the pure envy they bear you for surpassing them in famous achievements; and supposing this to be true, it follows that you are not enchanted, but gulled and besotted; for proof whereof I would ask you one thing, and if you answer me, as I believe you must, you shall lay your finger upon this palpable cheat, and find that you are not enchanted, but distracted." "Ask whatever you will, son Sancho," answered Don Quixote;" for I will satisfy you, and answer to your whole will. But as to what you tell me, that those yonder who come with us are the priest and the barber, our townsmen and acquaintance, it may very easily be that they may seem to be so; but, that they are so really and in effect, do not by any means believe it. What you ought to understand and believe is, that, if they seem to be those you say, it must be, that they who have enchanted me have assumed that appearance and likeness; for enchanters can easily take what form they please, and may have taken that of our two friends, in order to make you think as you do, and to involve you in such a labyrinth of imaginations, that you shall not be able to find your way out, though you had Theseus's clue. Besides, they may have done it to make me also waver in my judgment, and not be able to guess from what quarter this injury comes. For if, on the one side, you tell me that the priest and the barber of our village bear us company, and on the other side, I find myself locked up in a cage, and know of myself that no force but that which is supernatural could be sufficient to imprison me; what can I say or think, but that the manner of my enchantment exceeds all I have ever read of in the histories of knights-errant that have been enchanted? So that you may set your heart at rest as to their being what you say; for they are just as much so as I am a Turk. As to what concerns your asking me questions, ask them; for I will answer you, though you should continue asking from this time until to-morrow morning." "Blessed Virgin!" answered Sancho, raising his voice, "and is it then possible your worship -[277]- can be so thick-skulled and devoid of brains, that you cannot perceive what I tell you to be the very truth, and that there is more roguery than enchantment in this confinement and disgrace of yours; and since it is so, I will prove most evidently, that you are really not enchanted. Now tell me, as God shall save you from this storm, and as you hope to find yourself in my Lady Dulcinea's arms, when you least think of it " "Cease entreating me," said Don Quixote, "and ask what questions you will; for I have already told you I will answer them with the utmost punctuality." "That is what I would have you do," replied Sancho; "and what I have a mind to know is, that you tell me, without adding or diminishing a tittle, and with all truth and candour, as is expected from and practised by all who profess the exercise of arms, as your worship does, under the title of knights-errant " "I tell you I will lie in nothing," answered Don Quixote: "therefore make either a beginning or an end of asking; for, in truth, you tire me out with so many salvos, postulatums, and preparatives, Sancho." "I say," replied Sancho, "that I am fully satisfied of the goodness and veracity of my master, and that being to the purpose in our affair, I ask, with respect be it spoken, whether, since your being cooped up, or as you say, enchanted in this cage, your worship has not had an inclination to open the greater or the lesser sluices, as people are wont to say?" "I do not understand, Sancho," said Don Quixote, "what you mean by opening sluices: explain yourself, if you would have me give you a direct answer." "Is it possible," quoth Sancho," your worship should not understand that phrase, when the very children at school are weaned with it? Know then it means, whether you have not had a mind to do what nobody can do for you?" "Aye, now I comprehend you, Sancho," said Don Quixote;" and, in truth, I have often had such a mind, and have at this very instant: help me out of this strait, for I doubt all is not so clean as it should be."

 

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