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CHAPTER XLVIII

IN WHICH THE CANON PURSUES THE SUBJECT OF THE BOOKS OF CHIVALRY,
WITH OTHER MATTERS WORTHY OF HIS WIT

"It is as you say, senor canon," said the curate; "and for that
reason those who have hitherto written books of the sort deserve all
the more censure for writing without paying any attention to good
taste or the rules of art, by which they might guide themselves and
become as famous in prose as the two princes of Greek and Latin poetry
are in verse."

"I myself, at any rate," said the canon, "was once tempted to
write a book of chivalry in which all the points I have mentioned were
to be observed; and if I must own the truth I have more than a hundred
sheets written; and to try if it came up to my own opinion of it, I
showed them to persons who were fond of this kind of reading, to
learned and intelligent men as well as to ignorant people who cared
for nothing but the pleasure of listening to nonsense, and from all
I obtained flattering approval; nevertheless I proceeded no farther
with it, as well because it seemed to me an occupation inconsistent
with my profession, as because I perceived that the fools are more
numerous than the wise; and, though it is better to be praised by
the wise few than applauded by the foolish many, I have no mind to
submit myself to the stupid judgment of the silly public, to whom
the reading of such books falls for the most part.

"But what most of all made me hold my hand and even abandon all idea
of finishing it was an argument I put to myself taken from the plays
that are acted now-a-days, which was in this wise: if those that are
now in vogue, as well those that are pure invention as those founded
on history, are, all or most of them, downright nonsense and things
that have neither head nor tail, and yet the public listens to them
with delight, and regards and cries them up as perfection when they
are so far from it; and if the authors who write them, and the players
who act them, say that this is what they must be, for the public wants
this and will have nothing else; and that those that go by rule and
work out a plot according to the laws of art will only find some
half-dozen intelligent people to understand them, while all the rest
remain blind to the merit of their composition; and that for
themselves it is better to get bread from the many than praise from
the few; then my book will fare the same way, after I have burnt off
my eyebrows in trying to observe the principles I have spoken of,
and I shall be 'the tailor of the corner.' And though I have sometimes
endeavoured to convince actors that they are mistaken in this notion
they have adopted, and that they would attract more people, and get
more credit, by producing plays in accordance with the rules of art,
than by absurd ones, they are so thoroughly wedded to their own
opinion that no argument or evidence can wean them from it.

"I remember saying one day to one of these obstinate fellows,
'Tell me, do you not recollect that a few years ago, there were
three tragedies acted in Spain, written by a famous poet of these
kingdoms, which were such that they filled all who heard them with
admiration, delight, and interest, the ignorant as well as the wise,
the masses as well as the higher orders, and brought in more money
to the performers, these three alone, than thirty of the best that
have been since produced?'

"'No doubt,' replied the actor in question, 'you mean the
"Isabella," the "Phyllis," and the "Alexandra."'

"'Those are the ones I mean,' said I; 'and see if they did not
observe the principles of art, and if, by observing them, they
failed to show their superiority and please all the world; so that the
fault does not lie with the public that insists upon nonsense, but
with those who don't know how to produce something else. "The
Ingratitude Revenged" was not nonsense, nor was there any in "The
Numantia," nor any to be found in "The Merchant Lover," nor yet in
"The Friendly Fair Foe," nor in some others that have been written
by certain gifted poets, to their own fame and renown, and to the
profit of those that brought them out;' some further remarks I added
to these, with which, I think, I left him rather dumbfoundered, but
not so satisfied or convinced that I could disabuse him of his error."

"You have touched upon a subject, senor canon," observed the
curate here, "that has awakened an old enmity I have against the plays
in vogue at the present day, quite as strong as that which I bear to
the books of chivalry; for while the drama, according to Tully, should
be the mirror of human life, the model of manners, and the image of
the truth, those which are presented now-a-days are mirrors of
nonsense, models of folly, and images of lewdness. For what greater
nonsense can there be in connection with what we are now discussing
than for an infant to appear in swaddling clothes in the first scene
of the first act, and in the second a grown-up bearded man? Or what
greater absurdity can there be than putting before us an old man as
a swashbuckler, a young man as a poltroon, a lackey using fine
language, a page giving sage advice, a king plying as a porter, a
princess who is a kitchen-maid? And then what shall I say of their
attention to the time in which the action they represent may or can
take place, save that I have seen a play where the first act began
in Europe, the second in Asia, the third finished in Africa, and no
doubt, had it been in four acts, the fourth would have ended in
America, and so it would have been laid in all four quarters of the
globe? And if truth to life is the main thing the drama should keep in
view, how is it possible for any average understanding to be satisfied
when the action is supposed to pass in the time of King Pepin or
Charlemagne, and the principal personage in it they represent to be
the Emperor Heraclius who entered Jerusalem with the cross and won the
Holy Sepulchre, like Godfrey of Bouillon, there being years
innumerable between the one and the other? or, if the play is based on
fiction and historical facts are introduced, or bits of what
occurred to different people and at different times mixed up with
it, all, not only without any semblance of probability, but with
obvious errors that from every point of view are inexcusable? And
the worst of it is, there are ignorant people who say that this is
perfection, and that anything beyond this is affected refinement.
And then if we turn to sacred dramas- what miracles they invent in
them! What apocryphal, ill-devised incidents, attributing to one saint
the miracles of another! And even in secular plays they venture to
introduce miracles without any reason or object except that they think
some such miracle, or transformation as they call it, will come in
well to astonish stupid people and draw them to the play. All this
tends to the prejudice of the truth and the corruption of history, nay
more, to the reproach of the wits of Spain; for foreigners who
scrupulously observe the laws of the drama look upon us as barbarous
and ignorant, when they see the absurdity and nonsense of the plays we
produce. Nor will it be a sufficient excuse to say that the chief
object well-ordered governments have in view when they permit plays to
be performed in public is to entertain the people with some harmless
amusement occasionally, and keep it from those evil humours which
idleness is apt to engender; and that, as this may be attained by
any sort of play, good or bad, there is no need to lay down laws, or
bind those who write or act them to make them as they ought to be
made, since, as I say, the object sought for may be secured by any
sort. To this I would reply that the same end would be, beyond all
comparison, better attained by means of good plays than by those
that are not so; for after listening to an artistic and properly
constructed play, the hearer will come away enlivened by the jests,
instructed by the serious parts, full of admiration at the
incidents, his wits sharpened by the arguments, warned by the
tricks, all the wiser for the examples, inflamed against vice, and
in love with virtue; for in all these ways a good play will
stimulate the mind of the hearer be he ever so boorish or dull; and of
all impossibilities the greatest is that a play endowed with all these
qualities will not entertain, satisfy, and please much more than one
wanting in them, like the greater number of those which are commonly
acted now-a-days. Nor are the poets who write them to be blamed for
this; for some there are among them who are perfectly well aware of
their faults, and know what they ought to do; but as plays have become
a salable commodity, they say, and with truth, that the actors will
not buy them unless they are after this fashion; and so the poet tries
to adapt himself to the requirements of the actor who is to pay him
for his work. And that this is the truth may be seen by the
countless plays that a most fertile wit of these kingdoms has written,
with so much brilliancy, so much grace and gaiety, such polished
versification, such choice language, such profound reflections, and in
a word, so rich in eloquence and elevation of style, that he has
filled the world with his fame; and yet, in consequence of his
desire to suit the taste of the actors, they have not all, as some
of them have, come as near perfection as they ought. Others write
plays with such heedlessness that, after they have been acted, the
actors have to fly and abscond, afraid of being punished, as they
often have been, for having acted something offensive to some king
or other, or insulting to some noble family. All which evils, and many
more that I say nothing of, would be removed if there were some
intelligent and sensible person at the capital to examine all plays
before they were acted, not only those produced in the capital itself,
but all that were intended to be acted in Spain; without whose
approval, seal, and signature, no local magistracy should allow any
play to be acted. In that case actors would take care to send their
plays to the capital, and could act them in safety, and those who
write them would be more careful and take more pains with their
work, standing in awe of having to submit it to the strict examination
of one who understood the matter; and so good plays would be
produced and the objects they aim at happily attained; as well the
amusement of the people, as the credit of the wits of Spain, the
interest and safety of the actors, and the saving of trouble in
inflicting punishment on them. And if the same or some other person
were authorised to examine the newly written books of chivalry, no
doubt some would appear with all the perfections you have described,
enriching our language with the gracious and precious treasure of
eloquence, and driving the old books into obscurity before the light
of the new ones that would come out for the harmless entertainment,
not merely of the idle but of the very busiest; for the bow cannot
be always bent, nor can weak human nature exist without some lawful
amusement."

The canon and the curate had proceeded thus far with their
conversation, when the barber, coming forward, joined them, and said
to the curate, "This is the spot, senor licentiate, that I said was
a good one for fresh and plentiful pasture for the oxen, while we take
our noontide rest."

"And so it seems," returned the curate, and he told the canon what
he proposed to do, on which he too made up his mind to halt with them,
attracted by the aspect of the fair valley that lay before their eyes;
and to enjoy it as well as the conversation of the curate, to whom
he had begun to take a fancy, and also to learn more particulars about
the doings of Don Quixote, he desired some of his servants to go on to
the inn, which was not far distant, and fetch from it what eatables
there might be for the whole party, as he meant to rest for the
afternoon where he was; to which one of his servants replied that
the sumpter mule, which by this time ought to have reached the inn,
carried provisions enough to make it unnecessary to get anything
from the inn except barley.

"In that case," said the canon, "take all the beasts there, and
bring the sumpter mule back."

While this was going on, Sancho, perceiving that he could speak to
his master without having the curate and the barber, of whom he had
his suspicions, present all the time, approached the cage in which Don
Quixote was placed, and said, "Senor, to ease my conscience I want
to tell you the state of the case as to your enchantment, and that
is that these two here, with their faces covered, are the curate of
our village and the barber; and I suspect they have hit upon this plan
of carrying you off in this fashion, out of pure envy because your
worship surpasses them in doing famous deeds; and if this be the truth
it follows that you are not enchanted, but hoodwinked and made a
fool of. And to prove this I want to ask you one thing; and if you
answer me as I believe you will answer, you will be able to lay your
finger on the trick, and you will see that you are not enchanted but
gone wrong in your wits."

"Ask what thou wilt, Sancho my son," returned Don Quixote, "for I
will satisfy thee and answer all thou requirest. As to what thou
sayest, that these who accompany us yonder are the curate and the
barber, our neighbours and acquaintances, it is very possible that
they may seem to he those same persons; but that they are so in
reality and in fact, believe it not on any account; what thou art to
believe and think is that, if they look like them, as thou sayest,
it must be that those who have enchanted me have taken this shape
and likeness; for it is easy for enchanters to take any form they
please, and they may have taken those of our friends in order to
make thee think as thou dost, and lead thee into a labyrinth of
fancies from which thou wilt find no escape though thou hadst the cord
of Theseus; and they may also have done it to make me uncertain in
my mind, and unable to conjecture whence this evil comes to me; for if
on the one hand thou dost tell me that the barber and curate of our
village are here in company with us, and on the other I find myself
shut up in a cage, and know in my heart that no power on earth that
was not supernatural would have been able to shut me in, what
wouldst thou have me say or think, but that my enchantment is of a
sort that transcends all I have ever read of in all the histories that
deal with knights-errant that have been enchanted? So thou mayest
set thy mind at rest as to the idea that they are what thou sayest,
for they are as much so as I am a Turk. But touching thy desire to ask
me something, say on, and I will answer thee, though thou shouldst ask
questions from this till to-morrow morning."

"May Our Lady be good to me!" said Sancho, lifting up his voice;
"and is it possible that your worship is so thick of skull and so
short of brains that you cannot see that what I say is the simple
truth, and that malice has more to do with your imprisonment and
misfortune than enchantment? But as it is so, I will prove plainly
to you that you are not enchanted. Now tell me, so may God deliver you
from this affliction, and so may you find yourself when you least
expect it in the arms of my lady Dulcinea-"

"Leave off conjuring me," said Don Quixote, "and ask what thou
wouldst know; I have already told thee I will answer with all possible
precision."

"That is what I want," said Sancho; "and what I would know, and have
you tell me, without adding or leaving out anything, but telling the
whole truth as one expects it to be told, and as it is told, by all
who profess arms, as your worship professes them, under the title of
knights-errant-"

"I tell thee I will not lie in any particular," said Don Quixote;
"finish thy question; for in truth thou weariest me with all these
asseverations, requirements, and precautions, Sancho."

"Well, I rely on the goodness and truth of my master," said
Sancho; "and so, because it bears upon what we are talking about, I
would ask, speaking with all reverence, whether since your worship has
been shut up and, as you think, enchanted in this cage, you have
felt any desire or inclination to go anywhere, as the saying is?"

"I do not understand 'going anywhere,'" said Don Quixote; "explain
thyself more clearly, Sancho, if thou wouldst have me give an answer
to the point."

"Is it possible," said Sancho, "that your worship does not
understand 'going anywhere'? Why, the schoolboys know that from the
time they were babes. Well then, you must know I mean have you had any
desire to do what cannot be avoided?"

"Ah! now I understand thee, Sancho," said Don Quixote; "yes,
often, and even this minute; get me out of this strait, or all will
not go right."




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