Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

less all its results, was simple as well as original. In 1605, he published the First Part of Don Quixote, in which a country gentleman of La Mancha-full of genuine Castilian honor and enthusiasm, gentle and dignified in his character, trusted by his friends, and loved by his dependents—is represented as so completely crazed by long reading the most famous books of chivalry, that he believes them to be true, and feels himself called on to become the impossible knight-errant they describe,—nay, actually goes forth into the world to defend the oppressed and avenge the injured, like the heroes of his romances.

4. To complete his chivalrous equipment,—which he had begun by fitting up for himself a suit of armor strange to his century,-he took an esquire out of his neighborhood ; a middleaged peasant, ignorant and credulous to excess, but of great good-nature; a glutton and a liar; selfish and gross, yet attached to his master; shrewd enough occasionally to see the folly of their position, but always amusing, and sometimes mischievous in his interpretations of it.

5. These two sally forth from their native village, in search of adventures of which the excited imagination of the knight, turning windmills into giants, solitary inns into castles, and galley-slaves into oppressed gentlemen, finds abundance wherever he goes; while the esquire translates them all into the plain prose of truth with an admirable simplicity, quite unconscious of its own humor, and rendered the more striking by its contrast with the lofty and courteous dignity and magnificent illusions of the superior personage. There could, of course, be but one consistent termination of adventures like these. The knight and his esquire suffer a series of ridiculous discomfitures, and are, at last, brought home, like madmen, to their native village, where Cervantes leaves them with an intimation that the story of their adventures is by no means ended.

6. The latter half of Don Quixote is a contradiction of the proverb Cervantes cites in it,—that second parts were never yet good for much. It is, in fact, better than the first. But, throughout both parts, Cervantes shows the impulses and instincts of an original power with most distinctness in his development of the characters of Don Quixote and Sancho; characters in whose contrast and opposition is hidden the full spirit of his peculiar humor, and no small part of what is most characteristic of the entire fiction. They are his prominent personages. He delights, therefore, to have them as much as possible in the front of his scene.

7. The knight becomes gradually a detached, separate, and wholly independent personage into whom is infused so much of a generous and elevated nature, such gentleness and delicacy, such a pure sense of honor, and such a warm love for whatever is noble and good, that we feel almost the same attachment to him that the barber and the curate did, and are almost as ready as his family was, to mourn over his death.

8. The case of Sancho is, again, very similar, and, perhaps, in some respects stronger. At first, he is introduced as the opposite of Don Quixote, and used merely to bring out his master's peculiarities in a more striking relief. It is not until we have gone through nearly half of the First Part that he utters one of those proverbs which form afterwards the staple of his conversation and humor; and it is not until the opening of the Second Part, and, indeed, not till he comes forth, in all his mingled shrewdness and credulity, as governor of Barataria, that his character is quite developed and completed to the full measure of its grotesque, yet congruous proportions.

9. But, if we would do Cervantes the justice that would have been dearest to his own spirit, and even if we would ourselves fully comprehend and enjoy the whole of his Don Quixote, we ghould, as we read it, bear in mind that this delightful romance was not the result of a youthful exuberance of feeling, and a happy external condition, nor composed in his best years, when the spirits of its author were light and his hopes high : but that, with all its unquenchable and irresistible humor, with its brigh: views of the world, and its cheerful trust in goodness and virtue, it was written in his old age, at the conclusion of a life nearly every step of which had been marked with disappointed expectations, disheartening struggles, and sore calamities; that he began it in a prison, and that it was finished when he felt the hand of

death pressing heavy and cold upon his heart. If this be remembered as we read, we may feel, as we ought to feel, what admiration and reverence are due, not only to the living power of Don Quixote, but to the character and genius of Cervantes ; if it be forgotten or underrated, we shall fail in regard to both.

EXERCISE XCIX.

MIGUEL DE SAAVEDRA CERVANTES was born in the vicinity of Madrid, in Spain, in October, 1547. He died in April, 1616. Iv early life he was much given to poetry, but wrote largely afterwards both in verse and prose. His chief work, however, is the celebrated romance called “Don Quixote.” For the aim of this famous production and a further account of its author, see Exercise XCVIII. preceding. In the extract which follows, Sancho Panza is represented as receiving instructions from Don Quixote, respecting his new office, as governor of an island, which had long been promised him as the reward of faithful service to his master,

DON QUIXOTE AND SANCHO PANZA.

CERVANTES. 1. Don Quixote, hearing how soon Sancho was to depart to his new government, took him by the hand, and led him to his chamber, in order to give him some advice, respecting his conduct in office :-“First, my son, fear God : for, to fear him is wisdom; and being wise, thou canst not err. Secondly, consider what thou art, and endeavor to know thyself, which is the most difficult study of all. The knowledge of thyself will preserve thee from vanity, and the fate of the frog who foolishly vied with the ox, will serve thee as a caution: the recollection, too, of having been formerly a swineherd, in thine own country, will be to thee, in the loftiness of thy pride, like the ugly feet of the peacock."

2. “It is true,” said Sancho, “ that I once did keep swine, but I was only a boy then; when I grew towards manhood, I looked after geese, and not hogs. But this, methinks, is nothing to the purpose ; for all governors are not descended from kings.” “ That I grant,” replied Don Quixote: “and, therefore, those

who have not the advantage of noble descent, shculd fail not to grace the dignity of the office they bear, with gentleness and modesty, which, when accompanied with discretion, will silence those murmurs which few situations in life can escape.

3. “Conceal not the meanness of thy family, nor think it disgraceful to be descended from peasants: for, when it is seen that thou art not thyself ashamed, none will endeavor to make thee so; and deem it more meritorious to be a virtuous humble man than a lofty sinner. Infinite is the number of those who, born low of extraction, have risen to the highest dignities, both in church and state; and of this truth I could tire thee with examples.

4. “Remember, Sancho, if thou takest virtue for the rule of life, and valuest thyself upon acting in all things conformably thereto, thou wilt have no cause to envy lords and princes; for blood is inherited, but virtue is a common property, and may be acquired by all; it has, moreover, an intrinsic worth which blood has not. This being so, if, peradventure, any one of thy kindred visit thee in thy government, do not slight, nor affront him; but receive, cherish, and make much of him; for, in so doing, thou wilt please God, who allows none of his creatures to be despised; and thou, also, wilt manifest therein a welldisposed nature.

5. “Be not under the dominion of thine own will; it is the vice of the ignorant, who vainly presume on their own understanding. Let the tears of the poor find more compassion, but not more justice from thee, than the applications of the wealthy. Be equally solicitous to sift out the truth amidst the presents and promises of the rich, and the sighs and entreaties of the poor. Whenever equity may justly temper the rigor of the law, let not the whole force of it bear upon the delinquent; for it is better that a judge should lean on the side of compassion than severity. If, perchance, the scales of justice be not correctly balanced, let the error be imputable to pity, not to gold. If, perchance, the cause of thine enemy come before thee, forget thy injuries, and think only on the merits of the case. Let not private affection blind thee in another man's cause; for the

[ocr errors]

on

orrors thou shalt thereby commit, are often without remedy, and at the expense of both thy reputation and fortune.

6. When a beautiful woman comes before thee to demandi justice, consider maturely the nature of her claim, without regarding either her tears or her sighs, unless thou wouldst expose thy judgment to the danger of being lost in the one, and thy integrity in the other. Revile not with words him whom thou hast to correct with deeds: the punishment which the unhappy · wretch is doomed to suffer is sufficient, without the addition of abusive language. When the criminal stands before thee, re. collect the frail and depraved nature of man, and, as much as thou canst, without injustice to the suffering party, show pity and clemency; for, though all the attributes of God are equally adorable, yet his mercy is more shining and attractive in our eyes than his justice.

7. “If, Sancho, thou observest these precepts, thy days wil be long and thy. fame eternal: thy recompense full and thy felicity unspeakable. Thou shalt marry thy children to thy heart's content, and they and thy grandchildren shall want neither honors nor titles. Beloved by all men, thy days shall pass in peace and tranquillity; and when the inevitable period comes, death shall steal on thee in a good and venerable old age, and thy grandchildren's children, with their tender and pious hands, shall close thine eyes.

8. “But here let it rest, Sancho, for, if thou governest ill, though the fault will be thine, the shame will be mine. However, I am comforted in having given the best counsel in my power; and, therein having done my duty, I am acquitted both of my obligation and my promise; so God speed thee, Sancho, and govern thee in thy government, and deliver me from the fears I entertain, that thou wilt turn the whole island topsy. turvy!”

9. “Look you, sir,” replied Sancho, “ if your worship thinks I am not fit for this government, I renounce it from this time; for I have more regard for a single nail's breadth of my soul, than for ny ochole body; and plain Sancho can live as well upon bread and onions, as governor Sancho upon capon and partridge

« AnteriorContinuar »