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CHAPTER XXXVIII

WHICH TREATS OF THE CURIOUS DISCOURSE DON QUIXOTE DELIVERED ON
ARMS AND LETTERS

Continuing his discourse Don Quixote said: "As we began in the
student's case with poverty and its accompaniments, let us see now
if the soldier is richer, and we shall find that in poverty itself
there is no one poorer; for he is dependent on his miserable pay,
which comes late or never, or else on what he can plunder, seriously
imperilling his life and conscience; and sometimes his nakedness
will be so great that a slashed doublet serves him for uniform and
shirt, and in the depth of winter he has to defend himself against the
inclemency of the weather in the open field with nothing better than
the breath of his mouth, which I need not say, coming from an empty
place, must come out cold, contrary to the laws of nature. To be
sure he looks forward to the approach of night to make up for all
these discomforts on the bed that awaits him, which, unless by some
fault of his, never sins by being over narrow, for he can easily
measure out on the ground as he likes, and roll himself about in it to
his heart's content without any fear of the sheets slipping away
from him. Then, after all this, suppose the day and hour for taking
his degree in his calling to have come; suppose the day of battle to
have arrived, when they invest him with the doctor's cap made of lint,
to mend some bullet-hole, perhaps, that has gone through his
temples, or left him with a crippled arm or leg. Or if this does not
happen, and merciful Heaven watches over him and keeps him safe and
sound, it may be he will be in the same poverty he was in before,
and he must go through more engagements and more battles, and come
victorious out of all before he betters himself; but miracles of
that sort are seldom seen. For tell me, sirs, if you have ever
reflected upon it, by how much do those who have gained by war fall
short of the number of those who have perished in it? No doubt you
will reply that there can be no comparison, that the dead cannot be
numbered, while the living who have been rewarded may be summed up
with three figures. All which is the reverse in the case of men of
letters; for by skirts, to say nothing of sleeves, they all find means
of support; so that though the soldier has more to endure, his
reward is much less. But against all this it may be urged that it is
easier to reward two thousand soldiers, for the former may be
remunerated by giving them places, which must perforce be conferred
upon men of their calling, while the latter can only be recompensed
out of the very property of the master they serve; but this
impossibility only strengthens my argument.

"Putting this, however, aside, for it is a puzzling question for
which it is difficult to find a solution, let us return to the
superiority of arms over letters, a matter still undecided, so many
are the arguments put forward on each side; for besides those I have
mentioned, letters say that without them arms cannot maintain
themselves, for war, too, has its laws and is governed by them, and
laws belong to the domain of letters and men of letters. To this
arms make answer that without them laws cannot be maintained, for by
arms states are defended, kingdoms preserved, cities protected,
roads made safe, seas cleared of pirates; and, in short, if it were
not for them, states, kingdoms, monarchies, cities, ways by sea and
land would be exposed to the violence and confusion which war brings
with it, so long as it lasts and is free to make use of its privileges
and powers. And then it is plain that whatever costs most is valued
and deserves to be valued most. To attain to eminence in letters costs
a man time, watching, hunger, nakedness, headaches, indigestions,
and other things of the sort, some of which I have already referred
to. But for a man to come in the ordinary course of things to be a
good soldier costs him all the student suffers, and in an incomparably
higher degree, for at every step he runs the risk of losing his
life. For what dread of want or poverty that can reach or harass the
student can compare with what the soldier feels, who finds himself
beleaguered in some stronghold mounting guard in some ravelin or
cavalier, knows that the enemy is pushing a mine towards the post
where he is stationed, and cannot under any circumstances retire or
fly from the imminent danger that threatens him? All he can do is to
inform his captain of what is going on so that he may try to remedy it
by a counter-mine, and then stand his ground in fear and expectation
of the moment when he will fly up to the clouds without wings and
descend into the deep against his will. And if this seems a trifling
risk, let us see whether it is equalled or surpassed by the
encounter of two galleys stem to stem, in the midst of the open sea,
locked and entangled one with the other, when the soldier has no
more standing room than two feet of the plank of the spur; and yet,
though he sees before him threatening him as many ministers of death
as there are cannon of the foe pointed at him, not a lance length from
his body, and sees too that with the first heedless step he will go
down to visit the profundities of Neptune's bosom, still with
dauntless heart, urged on by honour that nerves him, he makes
himself a target for all that musketry, and struggles to cross that
narrow path to the enemy's ship. And what is still more marvellous, no
sooner has one gone down into the depths he will never rise from
till the end of the world, than another takes his place; and if he too
falls into the sea that waits for him like an enemy, another and
another will succeed him without a moment's pause between their
deaths: courage and daring the greatest that all the chances of war
can show. Happy the blest ages that knew not the dread fury of those
devilish engines of artillery, whose inventor I am persuaded is in
hell receiving the reward of his diabolical invention, by which he
made it easy for a base and cowardly arm to take the life of a gallant
gentleman; and that, when he knows not how or whence, in the height of
the ardour and enthusiasm that fire and animate brave hearts, there
should come some random bullet, discharged perhaps by one who fled
in terror at the flash when he fired off his accursed machine, which
in an instant puts an end to the projects and cuts off the life of one
who deserved to live for ages to come. And thus when I reflect on
this, I am almost tempted to say that in my heart I repent of having
adopted this profession of knight-errant in so detestable an age as we
live in now; for though no peril can make me fear, still it gives me
some uneasiness to think that powder and lead may rob me of the
opportunity of making myself famous and renowned throughout the
known earth by the might of my arm and the edge of my sword. But
Heaven's will be done; if I succeed in my attempt I shall be all the
more honoured, as I have faced greater dangers than the knights-errant
of yore exposed themselves to."

All this lengthy discourse Don Quixote delivered while the others
supped, forgetting to raise a morsel to his lips, though Sancho more
than once told him to eat his supper, as he would have time enough
afterwards to say all he wanted. It excited fresh pity in those who
had heard him to see a man of apparently sound sense, and with
rational views on every subject he discussed, so hopelessly wanting in
all, when his wretched unlucky chivalry was in question. The curate
told him he was quite right in all he had said in favour of arms,
and that he himself, though a man of letters and a graduate, was of
the same opinion.

They finished their supper, the cloth was removed, and while the
hostess, her daughter, and Maritornes were getting Don Quixote of La
Mancha's garret ready, in which it was arranged that the women were to
be quartered by themselves for the night, Don Fernando begged the
captive to tell them the story of his life, for it could not fail to
be strange and interesting, to judge by the hints he had let fall on
his arrival in company with Zoraida. To this the captive replied
that he would very willingly yield to his request, only he feared
his tale would not give them as much pleasure as he wished;
nevertheless, not to be wanting in compliance, he would tell it. The
curate and the others thanked him and added their entreaties, and he
finding himself so pressed said there was no occasion ask, where a
command had such weight, and added, "If your worships will give me
your attention you will hear a true story which, perhaps, fictitious
ones constructed with ingenious and studied art cannot come up to."
These words made them settle themselves in their places and preserve a
deep silence, and he seeing them waiting on his words in mute
expectation, began thus in a pleasant quiet voice.




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