|Miguel de Cervantes|
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616). Don Quixote, Part 1.
Vol. 14, pp. 48-54 of The Harvard Classics
Held as a Moorish slave for five years, Cervantes was submitted to almost daily tortures. But even the horrors of slavery could not dull his sense of humor, as evinced by his most witty and amusing novel.
(Cervantes ransomed from slavery, Sept. 19, 1580.)
The First Part
VI. Of the Pleasant and Curious Search Made by the Curate and the Barber of Don Quixote’s Library
WHO slept yet soundly. The curate sought for the keys of the library, the only authors of his harm, which the gentleman’s niece gave unto him very willingly. All of them entered into it, and among the rest of the old woman; wherein they found more than a hundred great volumes, and those very well bound, besides the small ones. And as soon as the old woman had seen them, she departed very hastily out of the chamber, and eftsoons returned with as great speed, with a holy-water pot and a sprinkler in her hand, and said: ‘Hold, master licentiate, and sprinkle this chamber all about, lest there should lurk in it some one enchanter of the many which these books contain, and cry quittance with us for the penalties we mean to inflict on these books, by banishing them out of the world.’ The simplicity of the good old woman caused the licentiate to laugh: who commanded the barber to fetch him down the books from their shelves, one by one, that he might peruse their arguments; for it might happen some to be found which in no sort deserved to be chastised with fire. ‘No,’ replied the niece, ‘no; you ought not to pardon any of them, seeing they have all been offenders: it is better you throw them all into the base-court, and there make a pile of them, and then set them a-fire; if not, they may be carried into the yard, and there make a bonfire of them, and the smoke will offend nobody.’ The old woman said as much, both of them thirsted so much for the death of these innocents; but the curate would not condescend thereto until he had first read the titles, at the least, of every book.
The first that Master Nicholas put into his hands was that of Amadis of Gaul; which the curate perusing a while: ‘This comes not to me first of all others without some mystery; for, as I have heard told, this is the first book of knighthood that ever was printed in Spain, and all the others have had their beginning and original from this; and therefore methinks that we must condemn him to the fire, without all remission, as the dogmatiser and head of so bad a sect.’ ‘Not, so, fie!’ quoth the barber; ‘for I have heard that it is the very best contrived book of all those of that kind; and therefore he is to be pardoned, as the only complete one of his profession.’ ‘That is true,’ replied the curate, ‘and for that reason we do give him his life for this time. Let us see that other which lies next unto him.’ ‘It is,’ quoth the barber, ‘The Adventures of Splandian, Amadis of Gaul’s lawfully begotten son.’ ‘Yet, on mine honesty,’ replied the curate, ‘his father’s goodness shall nothing avail him. Take this book, old mistress, and open the window, throw it down into the yard, and let it lay the foundation of our heap for the fire we mean to make.’ She did what was commanded with great alacrity, and so the good Splandian fled into the yard, to expect with all patience the fire which he was threatened to abide. ‘Forward,’ quoth the curate. ‘This that comes now,’ said the barber, ‘is Amadis of Greece; and, as I conjecture, all those that lie on this side are of the same lineage of Amadis.’ ‘Then let them go all to the yard,’ quoth the curate, ‘in exchange of burning Queen Pintiquinestra, and the shepherd Darinel with his eclogues, and the subtle and intricate discourses of the author, which are able to entangle the father that engendered me, if he went in form of a knight-errant.’ ‘I am of the same opinion,’ quoth the barber. ‘And I also,’ said the niece. ‘Then, since it is so,’ quoth the old wife, ‘let them come, and to the yard with them all.’ They were rendered all up unto her, which were many in number: wherefore, to save a labour of going up and down the stairs, she threw them out at the window.
‘What bundle is that?’ quoth the curate. ‘This is,’ answered Master Nicholas, ‘Don Olivante of Laura.’ ‘The author of that book,’ quoth the curate, ‘composed likewise The Garden of Flowers, and, in good sooth, I can scarce resolve which of the two works is truest, or, to speak better, is less lying; only this much I can determine, that this must go to the yard, being a book foolish and arrogant.’ ‘This that follows is Florismarte of Hircania,’quoth the barber. ‘Is Lord Florismarte there?’ then replied the curate; ‘then, by mine honesty, he shall briefly make his arrest in the yard, in despite of his wonderful birth and famous adventures; for the drouth and harshness of his style deserves no greater favour. To the yard with him, and this other, good masters.’ ‘With a very good will,’ quoth old Mumpsimus; and straightway did execute his commandment with no small gladness. ‘This is Sir Platyr,’ quoth the barber. ‘It is an ancient book,’ replied the curate, ‘wherein I find nothing meriting pardon; let him, without any reply, keep company with the rest.’ Forthwith it was done. Then was another book opened, and they saw the title thereof to be The Knight of the Cross. ‘For the holy title which this book beareth,’ quoth the curate, ‘his ignorance might be pardoned; but it is a common saying, “The devil lurks behind the cross”; wherefore let it go the fire.’ The barber, taking another book, said, ‘This is The Mirror of Knighthood.’ ‘I know his worship well,’ quoth the curate. ‘There goes among those books, I see, the Lord Raynold of Montalban, with his friends and companions, all of them greater thieves than Cacus, and the twelve peers of France, with the historiographer Turpin. I am, in truth, about to condemn them only to exile, forasmuch as they contain some part of the famous poet, Matthew Boyardo, his invention: out of which the Christian poet, Lodovic Ariosto, did likewise weave his work, which, if I can find among these, and that he speaks not his own native tongue, I’ll use him with no respect; but if he talk in his own language, I will put him, for honour’s sake, on my head.’ ‘If that be so,’ quoth the barber, ‘I have him at home in the Italian, but cannot understand him.’ ‘Neither were it good you should understand him,’ replied the curate; ‘and here we would willingly have excused the good captain that translated it into Spanish, from the labour, or bringing it into Spain, if it had pleased himself; for he hath deprived it of much natural worth in the translation: a fault incident to all those that presume to translate verses out of one language into another; for, though they employ all their industry and wit therein, they can never arrive to the height of that primitive conceit which they bring with them in their first birth. I say, therefore, that this book, and all the others that may be found in this library to treat of French affairs, be cast and deposited in some dry vault, until we may determine, with more deliberation, what we should do with them; always excepting Bernardo del Carpio, which must be there amongst the rest, and another called Roncesvalles; for these two, coming to my hands, shall be rendered up to those of the old guardian, and from hers into the fire’s, without any remission.’ All which was confirmed by the barber, who did ratify his sentence, holding it for good and discreet, because he knew the curate to be so virtuous a man, and so great a friend of the truth, as he would say nothing contrary to it for all the goods of the world.
And then, opening another book, he saw it was Palmerin de Oliva, near unto which stood another, entitled Palmerin of England; which the licentiate perceiving, said, ‘Let Oliva be presently rent in pieces, and burned in such sort that even the very ashes thereof may not be found; and let Palmerin of England be preserved, as a thing rarely delectable; and let such another box as that which Alexander found among Darius’ spoils, and deputed to keep Homer’s works, be made for it; for, gossip, this book hath sufficient authority for two reasons; the first, because of itself it is very good, and excellently contrived; the other, forasmuch as the report runs, that a certain discreet king of Portugal was the author thereof. All the adventures of the Castle of Miraguarda are excellent and artificial; the discourses very clear and courtly, observing evermore a decorum in him that speaks, with great propriety and conceit; therefore I say, Master Nicholas, if you think good, this and Amadis de Gaul may be preserved from the fire, and let all the rest, without further search or regard, perish.’ ‘In the devil’s name, do not so, gentle gossip,’ replied the barber; for this which I hold now in my hand is the famous Don Belianis.’ ‘What! he?’ quoth the curate; ‘the second, third, and fourth part thereof have great need of some rhubarb to purge his excessive choler, and we must, moreover, take out of him all that of the Castle of Fame, and other impertinences of more consequence. Therefore, we give them a terminus ultramarinus, and as they shall be corrected, so will we use mercy or justice towards them; and in the mean space, gossip, you may keep them at your house, but permit no man to read them.’ ‘I am pleased,’ quoth the barber; and, being unwilling to tire himself any more by reading of titles, he bade the old woman to take all the great volumes and throw them into the yard. The words were not spoken to a mome or deaf person, but to one that had more desire to burn them than to weave a piece of linen, were it never so great and fine; and therefore, taking eight of them together, she threw them all out of the window, and returning the second time, thinking to carry away a great many at once, one of them fell at the barber’s feet, who, desirous to know the title, saw that it was The History of the famous Knight Tirante the White. ‘Good God!’ quoth the curate, with a loud voice, ‘is Tirante the White here? Give me it, gossip; for I make account to find in it a treasure of delight, and a copious mine of pastime. Here is Don Quireleison of Montalban, a valiant knight; and his brother Thomas of Montalban, and the Knight Fonseca, and the combat which the valiant Detriante fought with Alano, and the witty conceits of the damsel Plazerdemivida, with the love and guiles of the widow Reposada, and of the empress enamoured on her squire Ipolito. I say unto you, gossip, that this book is, for the style, one of the best of the world: in it knights do eat, and drink, and sleep, and die in their beds naturally, and make their testaments before their death; with many other things which all other books of this subject do want; yet, notwithstanding, if I might be judge, the author thereof deserved, because he purposely penned and wrote so many follies, to be sent to the galleys for all the days of his life. Carry it home and read it, and you shall see all that I have said thereof to be true.’ ‘I believe it very well,’ quoth the barber; ‘but what shall we do with these little books that remain?’ ‘These, as I take,’ said the curate, ‘are not books of knighthood, but of poetry.’ And, opening one, he perceived it was the Diana of Montemayor; and, believing that all the rest were of that stamp, he said: ‘These deserve not to be burned with the rest, for they have not, nor can do, so much hurt as books of knighthood, being all of them works full of understanding and conceits, and do not prejudice any other.’ ‘Oh, good sir,’ quoth Don Quixote his niece, ‘your reverence shall likewise do well to have them also burnt, lest that mine uncle, after he be cured of his knightly disease, may fall, by reading of these, in a humour of becoming a shepherd, and so wander through the woods and fields, singing of roundelays, and playing on a crowd; and what is more dangerous than to become a poet? which is, as some say, an incurable and infectious disease.’ ‘This maiden says true,’ quoth the curate; ‘and it will not be amiss to remove this stumbling-block and occasion out of our friend’s way; and since we begin with the Diana of Montemayor, I am of opinion that it be not burned, but only that all that which treats of the wise Felicia, and of the enchanted water, be taken away, and also all the longer verses, and let him remain with his prose, and the honour of being the best of that kind.’ ‘This that follows,’ quoth the barber, ‘is theDiana, called the second, written by him of Salamhnca; and this other is of the same name, whose author is Gil Polo.’ ‘Let that of Salamanca,’ answered master parson, ‘augment the number of the condemned in the yard, and that of Gil Polo be kept as charily as if it were Apollo his own work; and go forward speedily, good gossip, for it grows late. ‘This book,’ quoth the barber, opening of another, ‘is The Twelve Books of the Fortunes of Love, written by Anthony Lofraso, the Sardinian poet.’ ‘By the holy orders which I have received,’ quoth the curate, ‘since Apollo was Apollo, and the muses muses, and poets poets, was never written so delightful and extravagant a work as this; and that, in his way and vein, it is the only one of all the books that have ever issued o that kind to view the light of the world, and he that hath not read it may make account that he hath never read matter of delight. Give it to me, gossip, for I do prize more the finding of it than I would the gift of a cassock of the best satin of Florence.’ And so, with great joy, he laid it aside. And the barber prosecuted, saying, ‘These that follow be The Shepherd of Iberia, The Nymphs of Enares,and The Reclaiming of the Jealousies.’ ‘Then there’s no more to be done but to deliver them up to the secular arm of the old wife, and do not demand the reason, for that were never to make an end.’ ‘This that comes is The Shepherd of Filida.’ ‘That is not a shepherd,’ quoth the curate, ‘but a very complete courtier; let it be reserved as a precious jewel.’ ‘This great one that follows is,’ said the barber, ‘entitled The Treasure of Divers Poems.’ ‘If they had not been so many,’ replied the curate, ‘they would have been more esteemed. It is necessary that this book be carded and purged of certain base things that lurk among his high conceits. Let him be kept, both because the author is my very great friend, and in regard of other more heroical and lofty works he hath written.’ ‘This is,’ said the barber, ‘the Ditty Book of Lopez Maldonado.’ ‘The author of that work is likewise my great friend,’ replied the parson; ‘and his lines, pronounced by himself, do ravish the hearers, and such is the sweetness of his voice when he sings them, as it doth enchant the ear. He is somewhat prolix in his eclogues, but that which is good is never superfluous; let him be kept among the choicest. But what book is that which lies next unto him?’ ‘The Galatea of Michael Cervantes,’ quoth the barber. ‘That Cervantes,’ said the curate, ‘is my old acquaintance this many a year, and I know he is more practised in misfortunes than in verses. His book hath some good invention in it; he intends and propounds somewhat, but concludes nothing; therefore we must expect the second part, which he hath promised; perhaps his amendment may obtain him a general remission, which until now is denied him, and whilst we expect the sight of his second work, keep this part closely imprisoned in your lodging.’ ‘I am very well content to do so, good gossip,’ said the barber; ‘and here there come three together: the Auracana of Don Alonso de Ercilla, the Austriada of John Ruffo, one of the magistrates of Cordova, and the Monserrato of Christopher de Virnes, a Valencian poet.’ ‘All these three books,’ quoth the curate, ‘are the best that are written in heroical verse in the Castilian tongue, and may compare with the most famous of Italy; reserve them as the richest pawns that Spain enjoyeth of poetry.’ The curate with this grew weary to see so many books, and so he would have all the rest burned at all adventures. But the barber, ere the sentence was given, had opened, by chance, one entitled The Tears of Angelica. ‘I would have shed those tears myself,’ said the curate, ‘if I had wittingly caused such a book to be burned; for the author thereof was one of the most famous poets of the world, not only of Spain, and was most happy in the translation of certain fables of Ovid.’