Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel De

, the author of Don Quixote, was born at Alcala de Henares in 1547. He was the son of Rodrigo de Cervantes and Donna Leonora de Cortinas, and baptised Sunday, Oct. 9 of that year, as appears from the parish register of Santa Maria la Mayor in Alcala. Several concurring testimonies furnished the clue for this discovery, although six other places, Seville, Madrid, Esquivias, Toledo, Lucena, and Alcazar de San Juan, called him their son, and each had their advocates to support their claims, in which respect his fame resembles that of Homer’s. His parents designed him for the profession of letters, and although he had at home the opportunity of instruction in the university, he studied Latin in Madrid. He afterwards resided there in 1568, but two years afterwards we find him at Rome in the service of cardinal Aquaviva in the capacity of chamberlain. Some time after this, pope Pius V. Philip IL of Spain, and the republic of Venice, united in a league, which was concluded May 29, 1571, against Selim the grand Turk. Cervantes, not satisfied with an idle court life, desirous of military renown, determined to commence soldier. Marco Antonio Colonna being appointed general of the pope’s galleys, Cervantes went with him, and was present in the famous battle of Lepanto, where he was so wounded in his left hand by a gun-shot as totally to lose the use of it; but he thought this such an honour, that he afterwards declared he would rather have been present in this glorious enterprise, than to be whole in his limbs, and not to have there at all. | Colonna returned to Rome in the end of 1572, and it is probable that Cervantes was with him,; as he tells us that for some years he followed his conquering banners. He was ordered to join his regiment at Naples, notwithstanding his being maimed. In his “Viage del Parnaso,” he tells us that he walked its streets more than a year: and in the copy of his ransom, it appears that he was there a long time. Don J. A. Pellicer supposes that in this city he employed his leisure hours in cultivating his knowledge of the Italian tongue, and in reading of its good writers, with whom he appears conversant in his works. As he was going from Naples to Spain on board the galley of the Sun, Sept. 26, 1575, he had the misfortune to fall into the hands of the Moors, who carried him captive to Algiers. The several hardships he underwent in his five years’ captivity are noticed by a contemporary writer: and though the events mentioned in the story of “The Captive,” in the first part of Don Quixote, cannot strictly be applied to himself, yet they could hardly have been so feelingly described but by one who had been a spectator of such treatment as he relates. Several extraordinary and dangerous attempts were made by him and his companions to obtain their liberty, which was effected at last by the regular way of ransom, which took place Sept. 19, 1580. The price was 500 escudos; towards which his mother, a widow, contributed 250 ducats, and his sister 50.

Upon his return to Spain in the spring of the year following, he fixed his residence in Madrid, where his mother and sister then lived. Following his own inclination to letters, he gave himself up anew to the reading of every kind of books, Latin, Spanish, and Italian, acquiring hence a great stock of various erudition. The first product of his genius was his “Galatea,” which he published in 1584, and on Dec. 12 of the same year he married at Esquivias, Donna Catalina de Salazar y Palacios. Madrid was still his place of residence in the years 1585 6 and 7. He turned his studies to the theatres, for which he wrote several pieces, which have never yet been published.- In the year 1596, he lived in Seville, and wrote an ironical sonnet upon the duke of Medina’s triumphal entry into Cadiz, after the earl of Essex had plundered and left the place. Probably Cervantes had a respect for the English from this event. In the fourth of his novels which takes its rise hence, he introduces La Espan’ola Inglesa to our queen | Elizabeth, who gives her a very cordial reception, and bids her speak to her in Spanish. In 1598 he was still in Seville, where he wrote a sonnet upon a majestic tomb of enormous height, to celebrate the exequies of Philip II. which he then spoke of as the honour of his writings. It is probable that he had relations in this city, as the illustrious family of the Cervantes y Saavedras was established here. From this year, however, there is a void in his history, and nothing more is known of him till 1604. Some have been willing to supply this defect, and suppose him sent upon a commission to Toboso; that the natives brought a charge against him, threw him into prison, and that he in resentment made Don Quixote and Dulcinea Manchegans. Certain it is that he describes with such accuracy the chorography of that province, and paints with such marks of propriety the manners, dresses, and customs of its natives, that it may be suspected that he had been an eye-witness of the whole. This probably is the whole foundation of the conjecture, for there is no document in proof of this, or any other appointment of Cervantes iq La Mancha. What is certainly known is, that at the beginning of the seventeenth century he was in prison, but for an offence (as don Gregorio Mayans observes) which could not be ignominious, as he himself makes express mention of it. And from the same testimony it is kno.vn, that when in this prison, he wrote his history of “Don Quixote,” of which he published the first part at Madrid in 1605. There was a second edition of this in 1608, at the same place and by the same printer, much corrected and improved, no notice of which is taken by Pellicer, who speaks of that of Valentia of 1605. supposing such to exist, but which he had not seen. There is another of Lisbon in 1605, curious only on the score of its great loppings and amputations.

In 1606, Cervantes returned from Valladolid to Madrid, where he passed the last ten years of his life. In 1610, his second patron, don Pedro Fernandez de Castro, count of Lemos, was named viceroy of Naples, and from thence continued to him his protection and liberality: and the cardinal don Bernardo de Sandoval y Rojas, archbishop of Toledo, after the example of his cousin the count of Lemos, assigned him a pension, that he might bear with less inconvenience the troubles of old age. Although Madrid was now Cerva:es’s home, he passed certain seasons in Esquivias, either to take care of some effects of his wife, or | to avoid the noise of the court, and to enjoy the quiet of the village, which afforded him opportunity to write more at his ease. Availing himself of this convenience, he hastened, as he was advanced in years, to publish the greater part of his works. He printed his “Novels” in 1613; his “Journey tq Parnassus” in 16 14-; his “Comedies and Interludes” in 1615; and in the same year the second part of his “Don Quixote.” He finished also his “Persilas and Sigismunda,” which was not published till after his death. In the mean time an incurable dropsy seized him, and gave him notice of his approaching dissolution, which he saw with Christian constancy and with a cheerful countenance. He has minutely described this in the prologue to his posthumous work. One of his late biographers says, that good-nature and candour, charity, humanity, and compassion for the infirmities of man in his abject state, and consequently an abhorrence of cruelty, persecution, and violence, the principal moral he seems to inculcate in his great work, were the glorious virtues and predominant good qualities of his soul, and must transmit his name to the latest ages with every eulogium due to so exalted a character. At length, on the same nominal day with his equally great and amiable contemporary Shakspeare, on the 23d of April, 16 16, died Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, in the sixty-ninth year of his age, and was buried in the church of the Trinitarian nuns in Madrid.

Of all the accounts hitherto published relative to Cervantes, we have given the preference to the preceding, for which we are indebted to the late rev. John Bowie, whose enthusiasm for “Don Quixote” is well known. It was translated by him from a work published in 1778 at Madrid by don Juan Antonio Pellicer y Safo^ada, one of the royal librarians, in a work entitled “Ensayo de una Bibliotheca de Traductores Espan’oles. Preceden varias Noticias Litterarias,” 4to. The particulars being the result of research in the only quarters where information could be procured, seem more worthy of confidence than the conjectures of some of Cervantes’s earlier biographers, whose chief object seems to have been to represent him as a man depressed and degraded by poverty or imprudence, and whose fate was a disgrace to his nation. It is necessary however to add that the above account was prefixed to the splendid edition of Don Quixote published by the Spanish academy about thirty years ago. from this M. Florian | wrote a life prefixed to his translation of Cervantes’s “Galatea,” and added not a little of the marvellous when detailing Cervantes’s adventures in captivity at Algiers. Florian’s account was translated into English by a Mr. William Walbeck, and published at Leeds in 1785, 12mo. Dr. Smollett has made a very interesting story in his life of Cervantes, but wanting th accurate information which has lately been recovered, he too hastily adopts the common opinions, and presents an almost unvaried detail of miseries and poverty. Cervantes’s own account of his person is the following: “His visage was sharp and aquiline, his hair of a chesnut colour, his forehead smooth and high, his nose bookish or hawkish, his eye brisk and chearful, his mouth little, his beard originally of a golden hue, his upper lip furnished with large mustachios, his complexion fair, his stature of the middling size;” and he adds, “that he was thick in the shoulders, and not very light of foot.

Of all Cervantes’s writings his “Don Quixote” is that only which now is entitled to much attention, although some of his “Novels” are elegant and interesting. But on his “Don Quixote” his fame will probably rest as long as a taste for genuine humour can be found. It ought also, says an elegant modern critic, to be considered as a most useful performance, that brought about a great revolution in the manners and literature of Europe, by banishing the wild dreams of chivalry, and reviving a tasta for the simplicity of nature. In this view, the publication of Don Quixote forms an important era in the history of mankind. Don Quixote is represented as a man, whom it is impossible not to esteem for his cultivated understanding, and the goodness of his heart; but who, by poring night and day upon old romances, had impaired his reason to such a degree, as to mistake them for history, and form the design of traversing the world, in the character, and with the accoutrements, of a knight-errant. His distempered fancy takes the most common occurrences for adventures similar to those he had read in his books of chivalry. And thus, the extravagance of these books being placed, as it were, in the same groupe with the appearances of nature and the real business of life, the hideous disproportion of the former becomes so glaring by the contrast, that the most inattentive reader cannot fail to be struck with it. The person, the pretensions, and the exploits, of the errant-knight, are held up to view in a | thousand ridiculous attitudes. In a word, the humour and satire are irresistible; and their effects were instantaneous. This work no sooner appeared than chivalry vanished. Mankind awoke as from a dream. They laughed at themselves for having been so long imposed on by absurdity; and wondered they had not made the discovery sooner. They were astonished to find, that nature and good sense could yield a more exquisite entertainment than they had ever derived from the most sublime phrenzies of chivalry. This, however, was the case; and that Don Quixote was more read, and more relished, than any other romance had ever been, we may infer from the sudden and powerful effects it produced on the sentiments of mankind, as well as from the declaration of the author himself; who tells us, that upwards of 12,000 copies of the first part (printed at Madrid in 1605) were circulated before the second could be ready for the press; an amazing rapidity of sale, at a time when the readers and purchasers of books were but an inconsiderable number compared to what they are in our days. “The very children (says he) handle it, boys read it, men understand, and old people applaud the performance. It is no sooner laid down by one than another takes it up; some struggling, and some intreating, for a sight of it. In fine (continues he) this history is the most delightful, and the least prejudicial entertainment, that ever was seen; for, in the whole book, there is not the least shadow of a dishonourable word, nor one thought unworthy of a good catholic.Don Quixote occasioned the death of the old romance, and gave birth to the new. Fiction from this time divested herself of her gigantic size> tremendous aspect, and frantic demeanour: and, descending to the level of common life, conversed with man as his equal, and as a polite and chearful companion. Not that every subsequent romance-writer adopted the plan, or the manner of Cervantes; but it was from him they learned to avoid extravagance and to imitate nature. And now probability was as much studied, as it had been formerly neglected.

These sentiments, which we have adopted from Dr. Seattle’s “Dissertations,” are the sentiments of sober criticism; but those who have allowed their imaginations to be heated by a frequent perusal of Don Quixote, have not scrupled to attribute to Cervantes more serious puiv poses than he could possibly have had in contemplation. | They have supposed that his object was to bring knighterrantry into ridicule, and they infer that he was so successful as to banish knight-errantry from the nations of Europe. But no assumption can be worse founded than the existence of knight-errantry in Cervantes’s time. No man in all Europe at that time went about defending virgins, redressing grievances, and conquering whole armies with the assistance of enchanters. Such imaginary beings and events existed only in the old romances, which being the favourite reading in Spain, Cervantes very properly levelled his satire at them in the person of Don Quixote, whom he describes as become insane by a constant perusal of them; and so far is he from insinuating that knighterrantry existed, that he makes his hero the ridicule of every person he meets. Cervantes’s sole purpose was to introduce a better style of writing for popular amusement, and he fully succeeded; and we may say with Dr. Warton, how great must be the native force of Cervantes’s humour, when it can be relished by readers even unacquainted with Spanish manners, with the institution of chivalry, and with the many passages of old romances, and Italian poems, to which it perpetually alludes! The great art, says the same critic, of Cervantes, consists in having painted his mad hero with such a number of amiable qualities, as to make it impossible for us totally to despise him. This light and shade in drawing characters, shews the master. It is thus that Addison has represented his sir Roger de Coverley, and Shakspeare his Falstaff. We know not, however, how to applaud what Dr. Warton calls a striking propriety in the madness of Don Quixote, “not frequently taken, notice of,” namely, his time of life. Thuanus informs us that madness is a common disorder among the Spaniards at the latter part of life, about the age in which the knight is represented. Without resting on this assertion, for which we know no better authority than the “Perroniana et Tlmana,” we conceive it highly probable that Cervantes made his hero elderly, that his pretended vigour of arm, and above all, his love addresses, might appear more ridiculous. We adopt with more satisfaction a sentiment of the late Mr. Owen Cambridge, in the preface to his “Scribleriad,” because it exalts Cervantes’s great work to that superiority of rank, as a mock-heroic, to which it seems justly entitled, and in which it is likely to remain undisturbed. Mr. Cambridge says, that in reading the | four celebrated mock-heroic poems, the Lutrin, Dispensary, Rape of the Lock, and Dunciad, he perceived they had all some radical defect; but at last he found, by a diligent perusal of Don Quixote, that Propriety was the fundamental excellence of that work; that all the marvellous was reconcileable to probability, as the author leads his hero into that species of absurdity only, which it was natural for an imagination heated with the continual reading of books of chivalry, to fall into; and that the want of attention to this was the fundamental error of those poems above mentioned.

The editions of Don Quixote have been so many as to render it impossible to give a correct list nor of a work so easily accessible, isit, perhaps, necessary. The English public have been long familiarized with it in the translations of Jarvis and Smollett, the comparative merits of which are so admirably adjusted in the late lord VYoodhouselee’s Essay on Translation. The French have also good translations.

Mr. D’Israeli, in his“” Curiosities of Literature,“has published an anecdote from the” Segraisiana,“which seems to have escaped the biographers of Cervantes.M. du Boulay accompanied the French ambassador to Spain when Cervantes was yet alive. He has told me, that the ambassador one day complimented Cervantes on the great reputation he had acquired by his Don Quixote; and that Cervantes whispered in his ear, “Had it not been for the Inquisition, I should have made my book much more entertaining.” In what manner he would have done so it would be useless to conjecture.

The last act of Cervantes’ s life was to write a dedication of his novel of “Persilas and Sigismunda” to his patron, the count of Lemos. As this appeared in the last edition of this Dictionary, and illustrates in some respect the character of the writer, we shall conclude this sketch with it.

"There is an old ballad, which in its day was much in vogue, and it began thus ‘ And now with one foot in the stirrup,’ &c. I could wish this did not fall so pat to my epistle, for I can almost say in the same words,

` And now with one foot in the stirrup,

Setting out for the regions of death,

To write this epistle I chear up,

And salute my lord with my last breath.‘

Yesterday they gave me the extreme unction, and to-day | I write this. Time is short, pains increase, hopes diminish and yet, for all this, I would live a little longer, methinks, not for the sake of living, but that I might kiss your excellency’s feet; and it is not impossible but the pleasure of seeing your excellency safe and well in Spain might make me well too. But, if I am decreed to die, heaven’s will be done: your excellency will at least give me leave to inform you of this my desire; and likewise that you had in me so zealous and well-affected a servant as was willing to go even beyond death to serve you, if it had been possible for his abilities to equal his sincerity. However, I prophetically rejoice at your excellency’s arrival again in Spain; my heart leaps within me to fancy you shewn to one another by the people, ` There goes the Condé de Lemos’ and it revives my spirits to see the accomplishment of those hopes which I have so long conceived of your excellency’s perfections. There are still remaining in my soul certain glimmerings of * The Weeks of Garden,‘ and of the famous Bernardo. If by good luck, or rather by a miracle, heaven spares my life, your excellency shall see them both, and with them the ` second part’ of ` Galatea,’ which I know your excellency would not be ill-pleased to see. And so I conclude with my ardent wishes, that the Almighty will preserve your excellency.

Your excellency’s servant,

Madrid, April 19, 1616. Michael de Cervantes." 1

1

Life as above.—Ditto by Smollett.—Seattle’s Dissertations, p, 562.—Warton’s Essay on Pope.—Saxii Onomasticon.