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Miqeul de Cervantes >> Don Quixote (page 93)


Don Quixote saw very plainly the attention with which thetraveller was regarding him, and read his curiosity in hisastonishment; and courteous as he was and ready to please everybody,before the other could ask him any question he anticipated him bysaying, "The appearance I present to your worship being so strange andso out of the common, I should not be surprised if it filled youwith wonder; but you will cease to wonder when I tell you, as I do,that I am one of those knights who, as people say, go seekingadventures. I have left my home, I have mortgaged my estate, I havegiven up my comforts, and committed myself to the arms of Fortune,to bear me whithersoever she may please. My desire was to bring tolife again knight-errantry, now dead, and for some time past,stumbling here, falling there, now coming down headlong, now raisingmyself up again, I have carried out a great portion of my design,succouring widows, protecting maidens, and giving aid to wives,orphans, and minors, the proper and natural duty of knights-errant;and, therefore, because of my many valiant and Christian achievements,I have been already found worthy to make my way in print towell-nigh all, or most, of the nations of the earth. Thirty thousandvolumes of my history have been printed, and it is on the high-road tobe printed thirty thousand thousands of times, if heaven does notput a stop to it. In short, to sum up all in a few words, or in asingle one, I may tell you I am Don Quixote of La Mancha, otherwisecalled 'The Knight of the Rueful Countenance;' for thoughself-praise is degrading, I must perforce sound my own sometimes, thatis to say, when there is no one at hand to do it for me. So that,gentle sir, neither this horse, nor this lance, nor this shield, northis squire, nor all these arms put together, nor the sallowness of mycountenance, nor my gaunt leanness, will henceforth astonish you,now that you know who I am and what profession I follow."

With these words Don Quixote held his peace, and, from the time hetook to answer, the man in green seemed to be at a loss for a reply;after a long pause, however, he said to him, "You were right whenyou saw curiosity in my amazement, sir knight; but you have notsucceeded in removing the astonishment I feel at seeing you; foralthough you say, senor, that knowing who you are ought to removeit, it has not done so; on the contrary, now that I know, I am leftmore amazed and astonished than before. What! is it possible thatthere are knights-errant in the world in these days, and historiesof real chivalry printed? I cannot realise the fact that there canbe anyone on earth now-a-days who aids widows, or protects maidens, ordefends wives, or succours orphans; nor should I believe it had Inot seen it in your worship with my own eyes. Blessed be heaven! forby means of this history of your noble and genuine chivalrous deeds,which you say has been printed, the countless stories of fictitiousknights-errant with which the world is filled, so much to the injuryof morality and the prejudice and discredit of good histories, willhave been driven into oblivion."

"There is a good deal to be said on that point," said Don Quixote,"as to whether the histories of the knights-errant are fiction ornot."

"Why, is there anyone who doubts that those histories are false?"said the man in green.

"I doubt it," said Don Quixote, "but never mind that just now; ifour journey lasts long enough, I trust in God I shall show yourworship that you do wrong in going with the stream of those who regardit as a matter of certainty that they are not true."

From this last observation of Don Quixote's, the traveller beganto have a suspicion that he was some crazy being, and was waitinghim to confirm it by something further; but before they could turnto any new subject Don Quixote begged him to tell him who he was,since he himself had rendered account of his station and life. Tothis, he in the green gaban replied "I, Sir Knight of the RuefulCountenance, am a gentleman by birth, native of the village where,please God, we are going to dine today; I am more than fairly welloff, and my name is Don Diego de Miranda. I pass my life with my wife,children, and friends; my pursuits are hunting and fishing, but I keepneither hawks nor greyhounds, nothing but a tame partridge or a boldferret or two; I have six dozen or so of books, some in our mothertongue, some Latin, some of them history, others devotional; thoseof chivalry have not as yet crossed the threshold of my door; I ammore given to turning over the profane than the devotional, so long asthey are books of honest entertainment that charm by their style andattract and interest by the invention they display, though of thesethere are very few in Spain. Sometimes I dine with my neighbours andfriends, and often invite them; my entertainments are neat and wellserved without stint of anything. I have no taste for tattle, nor do Iallow tattling in my presence; I pry not into my neighbours' lives,nor have I lynx-eyes for what others do. I hear mass every day; Ishare my substance with the poor, making no display of good works,lest I let hypocrisy and vainglory, those enemies that subtly takepossession of the most watchful heart, find an entrance into mine. Istrive to make peace between those whom I know to be at variance; I amthe devoted servant of Our Lady, and my trust is ever in theinfinite mercy of God our Lord."

Sancho listened with the greatest attention to the account of thegentleman's life and occupation; and thinking it a good and a holylife, and that he who led it ought to work miracles, he threwhimself off Dapple, and running in haste seized his right stirrupand kissed his foot again and again with a devout heart and almostwith tears.

Seeing this the gentleman asked him, "What are you about, brother?What are these kisses for?"

"Let me kiss," said Sancho, "for I think your worship is the firstsaint in the saddle I ever saw all the days of my life."

"I am no saint," replied the gentleman, "but a great sinner; but youare, brother, for you must be a good fellow, as your simplicityshows."

Sancho went back and regained his pack-saddle, having extracted alaugh from his master's profound melancholy, and excited freshamazement in Don Diego. Don Quixote then asked him how many childrenhe had, and observed that one of the things wherein the ancientphilosophers, who were without the true knowledge of God, placed thesummum bonum was in the gifts of nature, in those of fortune, inhaving many friends, and many and good children.

"I, Senor Don Quixote," answered the gentleman, "have one son,without whom, perhaps, I should count myself happier than I am, notbecause he is a bad son, but because he is not so good as I couldwish. He is eighteen years of age; he has been for six at Salamancastudying Latin and Greek, and when I wished him to turn to the studyof other sciences I found him so wrapped up in that of poetry (if thatcan be called a science) that there is no getting him to take kindlyto the law, which I wished him to study, or to theology, the queenof them all. I would like him to be an honour to his family, as welive in days when our kings liberally reward learning that is virtuousand worthy; for learning without virtue is a pearl on a dunghill. Hespends the whole day in settling whether Homer expressed himselfcorrectly or not in such and such a line of the Iliad, whether Martialwas indecent or not in such and such an epigram, whether such and suchlines of Virgil are to be understood in this way or in that; in short,all his talk is of the works of these poets, and those of Horace,Perseus, Juvenal, and Tibullus; for of the moderns in our own languagehe makes no great account; but with all his seeming indifference toSpanish poetry, just now his thoughts are absorbed in making a glosson four lines that have been sent him from Salamanca, which Isuspect are for some poetical tournament."

To all this Don Quixote said in reply, "Children, senor, areportions of their parents' bowels, and therefore, be they good or bad,are to be loved as we love the souls that give us life; it is forthe parents to guide them from infancy in the ways of virtue,propriety, and worthy Christian conduct, so that when grown up theymay be the staff of their parents' old age, and the glory of theirposterity; and to force them to study this or that science I do notthink wise, though it may be no harm to persuade them; and whenthere is no need to study for the sake of pane lucrando, and it is thestudent's good fortune that heaven has given him parents who providehim with it, it would be my advice to them to let him pursuewhatever science they may see him most inclined to; and though that ofpoetry is less useful than pleasurable, it is not one of those thatbring discredit upon the possessor. Poetry, gentle sir, is, as Itake it, like a tender young maiden of supreme beauty, to array,bedeck, and adorn whom is the task of several other maidens, who areall the rest of the sciences; and she must avail herself of the helpof all, and all derive their lustre from her. But this maiden will notbear to be handled, nor dragged through the streets, nor exposedeither at the corners of the market-places, or in the closets ofpalaces. She is the product of an Alchemy of such virtue that he whois able to practise it, will turn her into pure gold of inestimableworth. He that possesses her must keep her within bounds, notpermitting her to break out in ribald satires or soulless sonnets. Shemust on no account be offered for sale, unless, indeed, it be inheroic poems, moving tragedies, or sprightly and ingenious comedies.She must not be touched by the buffoons, nor by the ignorant vulgar,incapable of comprehending or appreciating her hidden treasures. Anddo not suppose, senor, that I apply the term vulgar here merely toplebeians and the lower orders; for everyone who is ignorant, be helord or prince, may and should be included among the vulgar. He, then,who shall embrace and cultivate poetry under the conditions I havenamed, shall become famous, and his name honoured throughout all thecivilised nations of the earth. And with regard to what you say,senor, of your son having no great opinion of Spanish poetry, I aminclined to think that he is not quite right there, and for thisreason: the great poet Homer did not write in Latin, because he wasa Greek, nor did Virgil write in Greek, because he was a Latin; inshort, all the ancient poets wrote in the language they imbibed withtheir mother's milk, and never went in quest of foreign ones toexpress their sublime conceptions; and that being so, the usage shouldin justice extend to all nations, and the German poet should not beundervalued because he writes in his own language, nor theCastilian, nor even the Biscayan, for writing in his. But your son,senor, I suspect, is not prejudiced against Spanish poetry, butagainst those poets who are mere Spanish verse writers, without anyknowledge of other languages or sciences to adorn and give life andvigour to their natural inspiration; and yet even in this he may bewrong; for, according to a true belief, a poet is born one; that is tosay, the poet by nature comes forth a poet from his mother's womb; andfollowing the bent that heaven has bestowed upon him, without theaid of study or art, he produces things that show how truly he spokewho said, 'Est Deus in nobis,' &c. At the same time, I say that thepoet by nature who calls in art to his aid will be a far betterpoet, and will surpass him who tries to be one relying upon hisknowledge of art alone. The reason is, that art does not surpassnature, but only brings it to perfection; and thus, nature combinedwith art, and art with nature, will produce a perfect poet. To bringmy argument to a close, I would say then, gentle sir, let your songo on as his star leads him, for being so studious as he seems tobe, and having already successfully surmounted the first step of thesciences, which is that of the languages, with their help he will byhis own exertions reach the summit of polite literature, which so wellbecomes an independent gentleman, and adorns, honours, anddistinguishes him, as much as the mitre does the bishop, or the gownthe learned counsellor. If your son write satires reflecting on thehonour of others, chide and correct him, and tear them up; but if hecompose discourses in which he rebukes vice in general, in the styleof Horace, and with elegance like his, commend him; for it islegitimate for a poet to write against envy and lash the envious inhis verse, and the other vices too, provided he does not single outindividuals; there are, however, poets who, for the sake of sayingsomething spiteful, would run the risk of being banished to thecoast of Pontus. If the poet be pure in his morals, he will be pure inhis verses too; the pen is the tongue of the mind, and as the thoughtengendered there, so will be the things that it writes down. And whenkings and princes observe this marvellous science of poetry in wise,virtuous, and thoughtful subjects, they honour, value, exalt them, andeven crown them with the leaves of that tree which the thunderboltstrikes not, as if to show that they whose brows are honoured andadorned with such a crown are not to be assailed by anyone."

He of the green gaban was filled with astonishment at Don Quixote'sargument, so much so that he began to abandon the notion he had takenup about his being crazy. But in the middle of the discourse, it beingnot very much to his taste, Sancho had turned aside out of the road tobeg a little milk from some shepherds, who were milking their eweshard by; and just as the gentleman, highly pleased, was about to renewthe conversation, Don Quixote, raising his head, perceived a cartcovered with royal flags coming along the road they were travelling;and persuaded that this must be some new adventure, he called aloud toSancho to come and bring him his helmet. Sancho, hearing himselfcalled, quitted the shepherds, and, prodding Dapple vigorously, cameup to his master, to whom there fell a terrific and desperateadventure.

CHAPTER XVII

WHEREIN IS SHOWN THE FURTHEST AND HIGHEST POINT WHICH THE UNEXAMPLEDCOURAGE OF DON QUIXOTE REACHED OR COULD REACH; TOGETHER WITH THEHAPPILY ACHIEVED ADVENTURE OF THE LIONS

The history tells that when Don Quixote called out to Sancho tobring him his helmet, Sancho was buying some curds the shepherdsagreed to sell him, and flurried by the great haste his master wasin did not know what to do with them or what to carry them in; so, notto lose them, for he had already paid for them, he thought it bestto throw them into his master's helmet, and acting on this bright ideahe went to see what his master wanted with him. He, as heapproached, exclaimed to him:

Title: Don Quixote
Author: Miqeul de Cervantes
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