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THE AUTHOR'S PREFACE


Idle reader: thou mayest believe me without any oath that I would
this book, as it is the child of my brain, were the fairest, gayest,
and cleverest that could be imagined. But I could not counteract
Nature's law that everything shall beget its like; and what, then,
could this sterile, illtilled wit of mine beget but the story of a
dry, shrivelled, whimsical offspring, full of thoughts of all sorts
and such as never came into any other imagination- just what might
be begotten in a prison, where every misery is lodged and every
doleful sound makes its dwelling? Tranquillity, a cheerful retreat,
pleasant fields, bright skies, murmuring brooks, peace of mind,
these are the things that go far to make even the most barren muses
fertile, and bring into the world births that fill it with wonder
and delight. Sometimes when a father has an ugly, loutish son, the
love he bears him so blindfolds his eyes that he does not see his
defects, or, rather, takes them for gifts and charms of mind and body,
and talks of them to his friends as wit and grace. I, however- for
though I pass for the father, I am but the stepfather to "Don
Quixote"- have no desire to go with the current of custom, or to
implore thee, dearest reader, almost with tears in my eyes, as
others do, to pardon or excuse the defects thou wilt perceive in
this child of mine. Thou art neither its kinsman nor its friend, thy
soul is thine own and thy will as free as any man's, whate'er he be,
thou art in thine own house and master of it as much as the king of
his taxes and thou knowest the common saying, "Under my cloak I kill
the king;" all which exempts and frees thee from every consideration
and obligation, and thou canst say what thou wilt of the story without
fear of being abused for any ill or rewarded for any good thou
mayest say of it.

My wish would be simply to present it to thee plain and unadorned,
without any embellishment of preface or uncountable muster of
customary sonnets, epigrams, and eulogies, such as are commonly put at
the beginning of books. For I can tell thee, though composing it
cost me some labour, I found none greater than the making of this
Preface thou art now reading. Many times did I take up my pen to write
it, and many did I lay it down again, not knowing what to write. One
of these times, as I was pondering with the paper before me, a pen
in my ear, my elbow on the desk, and my cheek in my hand, thinking
of what I should say, there came in unexpectedly a certain lively,
clever friend of mine, who, seeing me so deep in thought, asked the
reason; to which I, making no mystery of it, answered that I was
thinking of the Preface I had to make for the story of "Don
Quixote," which so troubled me that I had a mind not to make any at
all, nor even publish the achievements of so noble a knight.

"For, how could you expect me not to feel uneasy about what that
ancient lawgiver they call the Public will say when it sees me,
after slumbering so many years in the silence of oblivion, coming
out now with all my years upon my back, and with a book as dry as a
rush, devoid of invention, meagre in style, poor in thoughts, wholly
wanting in learning and wisdom, without quotations in the margin or
annotations at the end, after the fashion of other books I see, which,
though all fables and profanity, are so full of maxims from Aristotle,
and Plato, and the whole herd of philosophers, that they fill the
readers with amazement and convince them that the authors are men of
learning, erudition, and eloquence. And then, when they quote the Holy
Scriptures!- anyone would say they are St. Thomases or other doctors
of the Church, observing as they do a decorum so ingenious that in one
sentence they describe a distracted lover and in the next deliver a
devout little sermon that it is a pleasure and a treat to hear and
read. Of all this there will be nothing in my book, for I have nothing
to quote in the margin or to note at the end, and still less do I know
what authors I follow in it, to place them at the beginning, as all
do, under the letters A, B, C, beginning with Aristotle and ending
with Xenophon, or Zoilus, or Zeuxis, though one was a slanderer and
the other a painter. Also my book must do without sonnets at the
beginning, at least sonnets whose authors are dukes, marquises,
counts, bishops, ladies, or famous poets. Though if I were to ask
two or three obliging friends, I know they would give me them, and
such as the productions of those that have the highest reputation in
our Spain could not equal.

"In short, my friend," I continued, "I am determined that Senor
Don Quixote shall remain buried in the archives of his own La Mancha
until Heaven provide some one to garnish him with all those things
he stands in need of; because I find myself, through my shallowness
and want of learning, unequal to supplying them, and because I am by
nature shy and careless about hunting for authors to say what I myself
can say without them. Hence the cogitation and abstraction you found
me in, and reason enough, what you have heard from me."

Hearing this, my friend, giving himself a slap on the forehead and
breaking into a hearty laugh, exclaimed, "Before God, Brother, now
am I disabused of an error in which I have been living all this long
time I have known you, all through which I have taken you to be shrewd
and sensible in all you do; but now I see you are as far from that
as the heaven is from the earth. It is possible that things of so
little moment and so easy to set right can occupy and perplex a ripe
wit like yours, fit to break through and crush far greater
obstacles? By my faith, this comes, not of any want of ability, but of
too much indolence and too little knowledge of life. Do you want to
know if I am telling the truth? Well, then, attend to me, and you will
see how, in the opening and shutting of an eye, I sweep away all
your difficulties, and supply all those deficiencies which you say
check and discourage you from bringing before the world the story of
your famous Don Quixote, the light and mirror of all knight-errantry."

"Say on," said I, listening to his talk; "how do you propose to make
up for my diffidence, and reduce to order this chaos of perplexity I
am in?"

To which he made answer, "Your first difficulty about the sonnets,
epigrams, or complimentary verses which you want for the beginning,
and which ought to be by persons of importance and rank, can be
removed if you yourself take a little trouble to make them; you can
afterwards baptise them, and put any name you like to them,
fathering them on Prester John of the Indies or the Emperor of
Trebizond, who, to my knowledge, were said to have been famous
poets: and even if they were not, and any pedants or bachelors
should attack you and question the fact, never care two maravedis
for that, for even if they prove a lie against you they cannot cut off
the hand you wrote it with.

"As to references in the margin to the books and authors from whom
you take the aphorisms and sayings you put into your story, it is only
contriving to fit in nicely any sentences or scraps of Latin you may
happen to have by heart, or at any rate that will not give you much
trouble to look up; so as, when you speak of freedom and captivity, to
insert

Non bene pro toto libertas venditur auro;

and then refer in the margin to Horace, or whoever said it; or, if you
allude to the power of death, to come in with-

Pallida mors Aequo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas,
Regumque turres.

If it be friendship and the love God bids us bear to our enemy, go
at once to the Holy Scriptures, which you can do with a very small
amount of research, and quote no less than the words of God himself:
Ego autem dico vobis: diligite inimicos vestros. If you speak of
evil thoughts, turn to the Gospel: De corde exeunt cogitationes malae.
If of the fickleness of friends, there is Cato, who will give you
his distich:

Donec eris felix multos numerabis amicos,
Tempora si fuerint nubila, solus eris.

With these and such like bits of Latin they will take you for a
grammarian at all events, and that now-a-days is no small honour and
profit.

"With regard to adding annotations at the end of the book, you may
safely do it in this way. If you mention any giant in your book
contrive that it shall be the giant Goliath, and with this alone,
which will cost you almost nothing, you have a grand note, for you can
put- The giant Golias or Goliath was a Philistine whom the shepherd
David slew by a mighty stone-cast in the Terebinth valley, as is
related in the Book of Kings- in the chapter where you find it
written.

"Next, to prove yourself a man of erudition in polite literature and
cosmography, manage that the river Tagus shall be named in your story,
and there you are at once with another famous annotation, setting
forth- The river Tagus was so called after a King of Spain: it has its
source in such and such a place and falls into the ocean, kissing
the walls of the famous city of Lisbon, and it is a common belief that
it has golden sands, &c. If you should have anything to do with
robbers, I will give you the story of Cacus, for I have it by heart;
if with loose women, there is the Bishop of Mondonedo, who will give
you the loan of Lamia, Laida, and Flora, any reference to whom will
bring you great credit; if with hard-hearted ones, Ovid will furnish
you with Medea; if with witches or enchantresses, Homer has Calypso,
and Virgil Circe; if with valiant captains, Julius Caesar himself will
lend you himself in his own 'Commentaries,' and Plutarch will give you
a thousand Alexanders. If you should deal with love, with two ounces
you may know of Tuscan you can go to Leon the Hebrew, who will
supply you to your heart's content; or if you should not care to go to
foreign countries you have at home Fonseca's 'Of the Love of God,'
in which is condensed all that you or the most imaginative mind can
want on the subject. In short, all you have to do is to manage to
quote these names, or refer to these stories I have mentioned, and
leave it to me to insert the annotations and quotations, and I swear
by all that's good to fill your margins and use up four sheets at
the end of the book.

"Now let us come to those references to authors which other books
have, and you want for yours. The remedy for this is very simple:
You have only to look out for some book that quotes them all, from A
to Z as you say yourself, and then insert the very same alphabet in
your book, and though the imposition may be plain to see, because
you have so little need to borrow from them, that is no matter;
there will probably be some simple enough to believe that you have
made use of them all in this plain, artless story of yours. At any
rate, if it answers no other purpose, this long catalogue of authors
will serve to give a surprising look of authority to your book.
Besides, no one will trouble himself to verify whether you have
followed them or whether you have not, being no way concerned in it;
especially as, if I mistake not, this book of yours has no need of any
one of those things you say it wants, for it is, from beginning to
end, an attack upon the books of chivalry, of which Aristotle never
dreamt, nor St. Basil said a word, nor Cicero had any knowledge; nor
do the niceties of truth nor the observations of astrology come within
the range of its fanciful vagaries; nor have geometrical
measurements or refutations of the arguments used in rhetoric anything
to do with it; nor does it mean to preach to anybody, mixing up things
human and divine, a sort of motley in which no Christian understanding
should dress itself. It has only to avail itself of truth to nature in
its composition, and the more perfect the imitation the better the
work will be. And as this piece of yours aims at nothing more than
to destroy the authority and influence which books of chivalry have in
the world and with the public, there is no need for you to go
a-begging for aphorisms from philosophers, precepts from Holy
Scripture, fables from poets, speeches from orators, or miracles
from saints; but merely to take care that your style and diction run
musically, pleasantly, and plainly, with clear, proper, and
well-placed words, setting forth your purpose to the best of your
power, and putting your ideas intelligibly, without confusion or
obscurity. Strive, too, that in reading your story the melancholy
may be moved to laughter, and the merry made merrier still; that the
simple shall not be wearied, that the judicious shall admire the
invention, that the grave shall not despise it, nor the wise fail to
praise it. Finally, keep your aim fixed on the destruction of that
ill-founded edifice of the books of chivalry, hated by some and
praised by many more; for if you succeed in this you will have
achieved no small success."

In profound silence I listened to what my friend said, and his
observations made such an impression on me that, without attempting to
question them, I admitted their soundness, and out of them I
determined to make this Preface; wherein, gentle reader, thou wilt
perceive my friend's good sense, my good fortune in finding such an
adviser in such a time of need, and what thou hast gained in
receiving, without addition or alteration, the story of the famous Don
Quixote of La Mancha, who is held by all the inhabitants of the
district of the Campo de Montiel to have been the chastest lover and
the bravest knight that has for many years been seen in that
neighbourhood. I have no desire to magnify the service I render thee
in making thee acquainted with so renowned and honoured a knight,
but I do desire thy thanks for the acquaintance thou wilt make with
the famous Sancho Panza, his squire, in whom, to my thinking, I have
given thee condensed all the squirely drolleries that are scattered
through the swarm of the vain books of chivalry. And so- may God
give thee health, and not forget me. Vale.



Don Quixote by Migeul de Cervantes
Category:
Romance Literature - Spanish
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