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A Hero and Some Other Folks by William A. Quayle

Cervantes clothed him with all nobilities


for he had been a common soldier,

wounded and distressed. He had seen what a poor triviality that once noble thing had grown to be. Institutions become effete. Age is apt to sap the strength of movements as of men. Feudalism and the Crusades had commissioned the knight-errant; and now, when law began to hold sword for itself, the self-constituted legal force--knight-errantry--was no longer needed. But to know when an institution has served its purpose is little less than genius. Some things can be laughed down which can not be argued down. A jest is not infrequently more potent than any syllogism. Some things must be laughed away, other things must be wept away; so that humor and pathos are to be ranked among the mighty agents for reform. And one purpose Cervantes had was to laugh a tawdry knight-errantry off the stage. In long years of soldiery, I doubt not he had grown to hate this empty boast, and his nursed wrath now breaks out like a volcano. This was his apparent purpose--but who can say this was all his purpose? "King Lear" has a double action. Mayhap, Don Quixote has a double meaning. We are always attaching meanings to works of genius. But you can not tie any writer's utterance down to some poor altitude. Great utterances have at least a half-infinite application. Tennyson felt this, saying--as we read in his son's biography of him--regarding explanations of his "Idyls of the King:" "I hate to be tied down to 'this means that,' because the thought within the image is much more than any one
interpretation;" and, "Poetry is like shot-silk, with many glancing colors. Every reader will find his own interpretation according to his ability, and according to his sympathy, with the poet." What is true of poetry is true of all imaginative literature. An author may not have analyzed his own motive in its entirety. In any case, we may hold to this, Don Quixote was a gentleman, and is the first gentleman whose portrait is given us in literature. We have laughed at Don Quixote, but we have learned to love him. The "knight of the rueful countenance," as we see him now, is not himself a jest, but one of literature's most noble figures; and we love him because we must. Was it mere chance that in drawing this don, Cervantes clothed him with all nobilities, and shows him--living and dying--good, courageous, pure; in short, a man? This scarcely seems a happening. Seas have subtle undercurrents. I venture, Don Quixote has the same, and marks the appearance of a gentleman in literature, since which day that person has been a recurring, ennobling presence on the pages of fiction and poetry.

A gentleman is a comparatively recent creation in life, as in letters. Christ was the foremost and first gentleman. After him all gentility patterns. With the law of the imagination we are familiar, which is this: Imagination deals only with materials supplied by the senses. Imagination, in other words, is not strictly originative, but, rather, appropriative, giving a varied placing to images on hand, just as the kaleidoscope makes all its multiform combinations with a given number of pieces. Imagination does not


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