Gavilan College celebrates 400 years of Don Quijote

The History of Don Quixote - Translated by Thomas Shelton

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Bibliographical Note

 

In 1612 Thomas Shelton, whose version of Don Quixote is here reprinted, wrote in his Dedication to what is now known as the ‘First Part,’ of “having translated some five or six years ago ‘The History of Don Quixote’ out of the Spanish tongue into the English in the space of forty days.” The ‘six’ in this assertion is impossible, for the diligence of Mr. Fitzmaurice Kelly, the editor of Shelton in the ‘Tudor Translations’ (Nutt, 1896), has shown that it was the text of the Brussels edition of 1607 which Shelton used. But there is no reason to doubt that his version was made in this year, 1607, and his quickness in introducing to his friends a book which had only appeared in Spain in 1605 was a first proof of that English enthusiasm for Don Quixote, which has since produced many excellent contributions to his fame. Despite the delay in its publication, Shelton’s translation preceded that of any other foreign version, its nearest rival being the French rendering by César Oudin, which appeared in 1614. Both books were nearly thumbed out of existence, for when the British Museum in 1895 had the good luck to acquire first the one and then the other, the copy of Oudin was supposed to be unique, and of that of Shelton the only other known was that in the library of Lord Ashburnham. Other Sheltons have since come to light, and other Oudins may be in existence, but it is evident that neither with French nor with English readers was Don Quixote likely to remain long undisturbed on a book-shelf.

Extorted at last from Cervantes by the publication of ‘Avellaneda’s’ Segundo Tomo del Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha in the summer of 1614, the true continuation appeared towards the close of the following year, and if we lay to the door of the pirate its hurried conclusion, it is probable that without the sting of this dishonest competition Part II would never have appeared at all. The Brussels edition of it was published in February, 1616, and proceeding more leisurely this time Shelton completed his English rendering in time for it to appear in 1620, issuing also with it a reprint of his version of Part I, in which he altered a good many phrases in the first few pages, and touched up a sentence here and there later on.

The 1612 text of Part I has been made available by Mr. Fitzmaurice Kelly’s scholarly reprint in the Tudor Translations; in the present edition the text of 1620 has been followed throughout the whole work in order to introduce the few corrections which Shelton took the trouble to make in the first part. We may wish that he had made many more, or, in a word, that his translation were as uniformly exact as it is uniformly racy and untrammelled. But the temper in which a man takes upon him to translate a contemporary novel which has pleased him, and that in which he approaches a recognized classic are distinct enough, and in the joyous and courageous handling which results from the contemporary’s lack of reverence, though he misrepresent the letter more often than is creditable, he may well catch such a portion of his author’s spirit, as more learned and painstaking successors can only envy. In a translator of Don Quixote one touch of Cervantes’ spirit atones for a dozen verbal slips, and it is because Shelton had a true feeling of kinship with his author that his version has here been preferred to any other.

As to who Shelton was, Mr. Alexander Wright has suggested a probable answer in a pamphlet entitled Thomas Shelton, Translator, printed in 1898. In one of his marginal notes (Vol. III., p. 64) Shelton alludes to ‘the cries of the wild Irish,’ and it appears that in 1599 a Shelton who, earlier in the decade, had been in the service of the Lord Deputy at Dublin Castle was aiding Florence MacCarthy in a treasonable correspondence with the King of Spain, and therefore presumably knew Spanish. Again, to the Restitution of Decayed Intelligence, published by Richard Verstegan, another Englishman on the Catholic side, a Thomas Shelton contributed four seven-lined stanzas headed ‘To his deer frende M. Richard Verstegan.’ Mr. Wright suggests that Verstegan was not only the ‘deer frende’ of this sonnet, but ‘the very deere friend’ to whose importunity Shelton alludes in his dedication to Lord Howard de Walden. Mr. Wright also points out that Lord Howard de Walden’s mother had as her great-aunt an Anne Shelton, sister to the Sir John Shelton who hastened to Queen Mary at Kenninghall on the death of Edward VI. The connection is a little remote, but it nevertheless seems probable that our translator came of the stock of these Norfolk Sheltons and was the Irish agent of shifty loyalty whose doings are chronicled in the ‘State Papers.’ Whatever his birth and whatever his loyalty, he had a fine command of the English tongue, and that is our concern with him here.

Alfred W. Pollard.

Gavilan College celebrates 400 years of Don Quijote

The History of Don Quixote - Translated by Thomas Shelton

Gavilan Spanish Questions or comments Index page Top Next page