Sunday, October 9, 2011

Cervantes


Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, was baptized on October 9th, 1547.  According to critic Harold Bloom, Cervantes wrote the first modern novel; Don Quixote.  As Bloom wrote (“The Knight in the Mirror”): ‘…Yet how sly and subtle is the presence of Cervantes! At its most hilarious, Don Quixote is immensely sombre. Shakespeare again is the illuminating analogue: Hamlet at his most melancholic will not cease his punning or his gallows humour, and Falstaff's boundless wit is tormented by intimations of rejection. Just as Shakespeare wrote in no genre, Don Quixote is tragedy as well as comedy. Though it stands for ever as the birth of the novel out of the prose romance, and is still the best of all novels, I find its sadness augments each time I reread it, and does make it "the Spanish Bible", as Miguel de Unamuno termed this greatest of all narratives….’.

Sir Walter Scott invokes the memory of Cervantes through his narrator Jedediah Cleishbotham in “Count Robert of Paris”.

‘It is affecting to see the great Miguel Cervantes himself, even like the sons of meaner men, defending himself against the critics of the day, who assailed him upon such little discrepancies and inaccuracies as are apt to cloud the progress even of a mind like his, when the evening is closing around it. "It is quite a common thing," says Don Quixote, " for men who have gained a very great reputation by their writings before they were printed, quite to lose it afterwards, or, at least, the greater part."—" The reason is plain," answers the Bachelor Carrasco; " their faults are more easily discovered after the books are printed, as being then more read, and more narrowly examined, especially if the author has been much cried up before, for the" the severity of the scrutiny is sure to be the greater. Those who have raised themselves a name by their own ingenuity, great poets and celebrated historians, are commonly, if not always envied by a set of men who delight in censuring the writings of others, though they could never produce any of their own."—" That is no wonder." quoth Don Quixote; "there are many divines that would make but very dull preachers, and yet are quick enough at finding faults and superfluities in other men's sermons."—" All this is true” says Carrasco, " and therefore I could wish such censurers would be more merciful and less scrupulous and not dwell ungenerously upon small spots that are in a manner but so many atoms on the face of the clear sun they murmur at. If aliquando dormitat Homerus, let them consider how many nights he kept himself awake to bring his noble works in light as little darkened with defects as might be. But, indeed, it may many times happen, that what is censured for a fault, is rather an ornament, as moles often add to the beauty of a face. When all is said, he that publishes a book, runs a great risk. since nothing can be so unlikely as that he should have composed one capable of securing the approbation of every reader."—" Sure," says Don Quixote, " that which treats of me can have pleased but few!"—" Quite the contrary," says Carrasco; "for as infinitus est numerus stultorum, so an infinite number have admired your history. Only some there are who have taxed the author with want of memory or sincerity, because he forgot to give an account who it was that stole Sancho's Dapple, for that particular is not mentioned there, only we find, by the story, that it was stolen; and  yet, by and by, we find him riding the same ass again, without any previous light given us into the matter. Then they say that the author forgot to tell the reader what Sancho did with the hundred pieces of gold he found in the portmanteau in the Sierra Morena, for there is not a word said of them more; and many people have a great mind to know what he did with them, and how he spent them' which is one of the most material points in which the work is defective."

How amusingly Sancho is made to clear up the obscurities thus alluded to by the Bachelor Carrasco—no reader can have forgotten; but there remained enough of similar lacunae, inadvertencies, and mistakes, to exercise the ingenuity of those Spanish critics, who were too wise in their own conceit to profit by the good-natured and modest apology of this immortal author.
There can be no doubt, that if Cervantes had deigned to use it, he might have pleaded also that apology of indifferent health, under which he certainly laboured while finishing the second part of "Don Quixote." It must be too obvious that the intervals of such a malady as then affected Cervantes, could not be the most favourable in the world for revising lighter compositions, and correcting, at least, those grosser errors and imperfections which each author should, if it were but for shame's sake, remove from his work, before bringing it forth into the broad light of day, where they will never fail to be distinctly seen, nor lack ingenious persons, who will be too happy in discharging the office of pointing them out.

It is more than time to explain with what purpose we have called thus fully to memory the many venial errors of the inimitable Cervantes, and those passages in which he has rather defied his adversaries than pleaded his own justification; for I suppose it will be readily granted, that the difference is too wide betwixt that great wit of Spain and ourselves, to permit us to use a buckler which was rendered sufficiently formidable only by the strenuous hand in which it was placed.

The history of my first publications is sufficiently well known. For did I relinquish the purpose of concluding these "Tales of my Landlord," which had been so remarkably fortunate; but Death, which steals upon us all with an inaudible foot, cut short the ingenious young man to whose memory I composed that inscription, and erected, at my own charge, that monument which protects his remains, by the side of the river Gander, which he has contributed so much to render immortal, and in a place of his own selection, not very distant from the school under my care.' In a word, the ingenious Mr. Pattison was removed from his place.'…’

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