Miqeul de Cervantes >> Don Quixote (page 71)

While this was passing between the ladies of the castle and DonQuixote, the curate and the barber bade farewell to Don Fernando andhis companions, to the captain, his brother, and the ladies, now allmade happy, and in particular to Dorothea and Luscinda. They allembraced one another, and promised to let each other know how thingswent with them, and Don Fernando directed the curate where to write tohim, to tell him what became of Don Quixote, assuring him that therewas nothing that could give him more pleasure than to hear of it,and that he too, on his part, would send him word of everything hethought he would like to know, about his marriage, Zoraida'sbaptism, Don Luis's affair, and Luscinda's return to her home. Thecurate promised to comply with his request carefully, and theyembraced once more, and renewed their promises.

The landlord approached the curate and handed him some papers,saying he had discovered them in the lining of the valise in which thenovel of "The Ill-advised Curiosity" had been found, and that he mighttake them all away with him as their owner had not since returned;for, as he could not read, he did not want them himself. The curatethanked him, and opening them he saw at the beginning of themanuscript the words, "Novel of Rinconete and Cortadillo," by which heperceived that it was a novel, and as that of "The Ill-advisedCuriosity" had been good he concluded this would be so too, as theywere both probably by the same author; so he kept it, intending toread it when he had an opportunity. He then mounted and his friend thebarber did the same, both masked, so as not to be recognised by DonQuixote, and set out following in the rear of the cart. The order ofmarch was this: first went the cart with the owner leading it; at eachside of it marched the officers of the Brotherhood, as has beensaid, with their muskets; then followed Sancho Panza on his ass,leading Rocinante by the bridle; and behind all came the curate andthe barber on their mighty mules, with faces covered, as aforesaid,and a grave and serious air, measuring their pace to suit the slowsteps of the oxen. Don Quixote was seated in the cage, with hishands tied and his feet stretched out, leaning against the bars assilent and as patient as if he were a stone statue and not a man offlesh. Thus slowly and silently they made, it might be, two leagues,until they reached a valley which the carter thought a convenientplace for resting and feeding his oxen, and he said so to thecurate, but the barber was of opinion that they ought to push on alittle farther, as at the other side of a hill which appeared close byhe knew there was a valley that had more grass and much better thanthe one where they proposed to halt; and his advice was taken and theycontinued their journey.

Just at that moment the curate, looking back, saw coming on behindthem six or seven mounted men, well found and equipped, who soonovertook them, for they were travelling, not at the sluggish,deliberate pace of oxen, but like men who rode canons' mules, and inhaste to take their noontide rest as soon as possible at the inn whichwas in sight not a league off. The quick travellers came up with theslow, and courteous salutations were exchanged; and one of the newcomers, who was, in fact, a canon of Toledo and master of the otherswho accompanied him, observing the regular order of the procession,the cart, the officers, Sancho, Rocinante, the curate and thebarber, and above all Don Quixote caged and confined, could not helpasking what was the meaning of carrying the man in that fashion;though, from the badges of the officers, he already concluded thathe must be some desperate highwayman or other malefactor whosepunishment fell within the jurisdiction of the Holy Brotherhood. Oneof the officers to whom he had put the question, replied, "Let thegentleman himself tell you the meaning of his going this way, senor,for we do not know."

Don Quixote overheard the conversation and said, "Haply,gentlemen, you are versed and learned in matters of errant chivalry?Because if you are I will tell you my misfortunes; if not, there is nogood in my giving myself the trouble of relating them;" but here thecurate and the barber, seeing that the travellers were engaged inconversation with Don Quixote, came forward, in order to answer insuch a way as to save their stratagem from being discovered.

The canon, replying to Don Quixote, said, "In truth, brother, I knowmore about books of chivalry than I do about Villalpando's elements oflogic; so if that be all, you may safely tell me what you please."

"In God's name, then, senor," replied Don Quixote; "if that be so, Iwould have you know that I am held enchanted in this cage by theenvy and fraud of wicked enchanters; for virtue is more persecutedby the wicked than loved by the good. I am a knight-errant, and notone of those whose names Fame has never thought of immortalising inher record, but of those who, in defiance and in spite of envy itself,and all the magicians that Persia, or Brahmans that India, orGymnosophists that Ethiopia ever produced, will place their names inthe temple of immortality, to serve as examples and patterns forages to come, whereby knights-errant may see the footsteps in whichthey must tread if they would attain the summit and crowning pointof honour in arms."

"What Senor Don Quixote of La Mancha says," observed the curate, "isthe truth; for he goes enchanted in this cart, not from any fault orsins of his, but because of the malevolence of those to whom virtue isodious and valour hateful. This, senor, is the Knight of the RuefulCountenance, if you have ever heard him named, whose valiantachievements and mighty deeds shall be written on lasting brass andimperishable marble, notwithstanding all the efforts of envy toobscure them and malice to hide them."

When the canon heard both the prisoner and the man who was atliberty talk in such a strain he was ready to cross himself in hisastonishment, and could not make out what had befallen him; and allhis attendants were in the same state of amazement.

At this point Sancho Panza, who had drawn near to hear theconversation, said, in order to make everything plain, "Well, sirs,you may like or dislike what I am going to say, but the fact of thematter is, my master, Don Quixote, is just as much enchanted as mymother. He is in his full senses, he eats and he drinks, and he hashis calls like other men and as he had yesterday, before they cagedhim. And if that's the case, what do they mean by wanting me tobelieve that he is enchanted? For I have heard many a one say thatenchanted people neither eat, nor sleep, nor talk; and my master, ifyou don't stop him, will talk more than thirty lawyers." Thenturning to the curate he exclaimed, "Ah, senor curate, senor curate!do you think I don't know you? Do you think I don't guess and seethe drift of these new enchantments? Well then, I can tell you Iknow you, for all your face is covered, and I can tell you I am upto you, however you may hide your tricks. After all, where envy reignsvirtue cannot live, and where there is niggardliness there can be noliberality. Ill betide the devil! if it had not been for yourworship my master would be married to the Princess Micomicona thisminute, and I should be a count at least; for no less was to beexpected, as well from the goodness of my master, him of the RuefulCountenance, as from the greatness of my services. But I see now howtrue it is what they say in these parts, that the wheel of fortuneturns faster than a mill-wheel, and that those who were up yesterdayare down to-day. I am sorry for my wife and children, for when theymight fairly and reasonably expect to see their father return tothem a governor or viceroy of some island or kingdom, they will seehim come back a horse-boy. I have said all this, senor curate, only tourge your paternity to lay to your conscience your ill-treatment of mymaster; and have a care that God does not call you to account inanother life for making a prisoner of him in this way, and chargeagainst you all the succours and good deeds that my lord Don Quixoteleaves undone while he is shut up.

"Trim those lamps there!" exclaimed the barber at this; "so youare of the same fraternity as your master, too, Sancho? By God, Ibegin to see that you will have to keep him company in the cage, andbe enchanted like him for having caught some of his humour andchivalry. It was an evil hour when you let yourself be got withchild by his promises, and that island you long so much for foundits way into your head."

"I am not with child by anyone," returned Sancho, "nor am I a man tolet myself be got with child, if it was by the King himself. ThoughI am poor I am an old Christian, and I owe nothing to nobody, and if Ilong for an island, other people long for worse. Each of us is the sonof his own works; and being a man I may come to be pope, not to saygovernor of an island, especially as my master may win so many that hewill not know whom to give them to. Mind how you talk, masterbarber; for shaving is not everything, and there is some differencebetween Peter and Peter. I say this because we all know one another,and it will not do to throw false dice with me; and as to theenchantment of my master, God knows the truth; leave it as it is; itonly makes it worse to stir it."

The barber did not care to answer Sancho lest by his plainspeaking he should disclose what the curate and he himself were tryingso hard to conceal; and under the same apprehension the curate hadasked the canon to ride on a little in advance, so that he mighttell him the mystery of this man in the cage, and other things thatwould amuse him. The canon agreed, and going on ahead with hisservants, listened with attention to the account of the character,life, madness, and ways of Don Quixote, given him by the curate, whodescribed to him briefly the beginning and origin of his craze, andtold him the whole story of his adventures up to his being confined inthe cage, together with the plan they had of taking him home to try ifby any means they could discover a cure for his madness. The canon andhis servants were surprised anew when they heard Don Quixote's strangestory, and when it was finished he said, "To tell the truth, senorcurate, I for my part consider what they call books of chivalry tobe mischievous to the State; and though, led by idle and falsetaste, I have read the beginnings of almost all that have beenprinted, I never could manage to read any one of them from beginningto end; for it seems to me they are all more or less the same thing;and one has nothing more in it than another; this no more than that.And in my opinion this sort of writing and composition is of thesame species as the fables they call the Milesian, nonsensical talesthat aim solely at giving amusement and not instruction, exactly theopposite of the apologue fables which amuse and instruct at the sametime. And though it may be the chief object of such books to amuse,I do not know how they can succeed, when they are so full of suchmonstrous nonsense. For the enjoyment the mind feels must come fromthe beauty and harmony which it perceives or contemplates in thethings that the eye or the imagination brings before it; and nothingthat has any ugliness or disproportion about it can give any pleasure.What beauty, then, or what proportion of the parts to the whole, or ofthe whole to the parts, can there be in a book or fable where a lad ofsixteen cuts down a giant as tall as a tower and makes two halves ofhim as if he was an almond cake? And when they want to give us apicture of a battle, after having told us that there are a millionof combatants on the side of the enemy, let the hero of the book beopposed to them, and we have perforce to believe, whether we like itor not, that the said knight wins the victory by the single might ofhis strong arm. And then, what shall we say of the facility with whicha born queen or empress will give herself over into the arms of someunknown wandering knight? What mind, that is not wholly barbarousand uncultured, can find pleasure in reading of how a great tower fullof knights sails away across the sea like a ship with a fair wind, andwill be to-night in Lombardy and to-morrow morning in the land ofPrester John of the Indies, or some other that Ptolemy never describednor Marco Polo saw? And if, in answer to this, I am told that theauthors of books of the kind write them as fiction, and thereforeare not bound to regard niceties of truth, I would reply thatfiction is all the better the more it looks like truth, and givesthe more pleasure the more probability and possibility there isabout it. Plots in fiction should be wedded to the understanding ofthe reader, and be constructed in such a way that, reconcilingimpossibilities, smoothing over difficulties, keeping the mind onthe alert, they may surprise, interest, divert, and entertain, so thatwonder and delight joined may keep pace one with the other; allwhich he will fail to effect who shuns verisimilitude and truth tonature, wherein lies the perfection of writing. I have never yetseen any book of chivalry that puts together a connected plot completein all its numbers, so that the middle agrees with the beginning,and the end with the beginning and middle; on the contrary, theyconstruct them with such a multitude of members that it seems asthough they meant to produce a chimera or monster rather than awell-proportioned figure. And besides all this they are harsh in theirstyle, incredible in their achievements, licentious in their amours,uncouth in their courtly speeches, prolix in their battles, silly intheir arguments, absurd in their travels, and, in short, wanting ineverything like intelligent art; for which reason they deserve to bebanished from the Christian commonwealth as a worthless breed."

The curate listened to him attentively and felt that he was a man ofsound understanding, and that there was good reason in what he said;so he told him that, being of the same opinion himself, and bearinga grudge to books of chivalry, he had burned all Don Quixote's,which were many; and gave him an account of the scrutiny he had madeof them, and of those he had condemned to the flames and those hehad spared, with which the canon was not a little amused, addingthat though he had said so much in condemnation of these books,still he found one good thing in them, and that was the opportunitythey afforded to a gifted intellect for displaying itself; for theypresented a wide and spacious field over which the pen might rangefreely, describing shipwrecks, tempests, combats, battles,portraying a valiant captain with all the qualifications requisiteto make one, showing him sagacious in foreseeing the wiles of theenemy, eloquent in speech to encourage or restrain his soldiers,ripe in counsel, rapid in resolve, as bold in biding his time as inpressing the attack; now picturing some sad tragic incident, nowsome joyful and unexpected event; here a beauteous lady, virtuous,wise, and modest; there a Christian knight, brave and gentle; here alawless, barbarous braggart; there a courteous prince, gallant andgracious; setting forth the devotion and loyalty of vassals, thegreatness and generosity of nobles. "Or again," said he, "the authormay show himself to be an astronomer, or a skilled cosmographer, ormusician, or one versed in affairs of state, and sometimes he willhave a chance of coming forward as a magician if he likes. He canset forth the craftiness of Ulysses, the piety of AEneas, the valourof Achilles, the misfortunes of Hector, the treachery of Sinon, thefriendship of Euryalus, the generosity of Alexander, the boldness ofCaesar, the clemency and truth of Trajan, the fidelity of Zopyrus, thewisdom of Cato, and in short all the faculties that serve to make anillustrious man perfect, now uniting them in one individual, againdistributing them among many; and if this be done with charm ofstyle and ingenious invention, aiming at the truth as much aspossible, he will assuredly weave a web of bright and varied threadsthat, when finished, will display such perfection and beauty that itwill attain the worthiest object any writing can seek, which, as Isaid before, is to give instruction and pleasure combined; for theunrestricted range of these books enables the author to show hispowers, epic, lyric, tragic, or comic, and all the moods the sweet andwinning arts of poesy and oratory are capable of; for the epic maybe written in prose just as well as in verse."

Title: Don Quixote
Author: Miqeul de Cervantes
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