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The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha

Which Cervantes would put down


This

was indeed a daring remedy; and, as may be supposed, by some it has been thought that Cervantes, in lopping off an excrescence, did also destroy a healthy limb,--that, in destroying knight-errantry, he destroyed also the holy spirit of self-devotion and heroism. The Count Segur, we are told by an ingenious writer of the present time,[2] who joins the Count in his opinion, laments that the fine spirit of chivalry should have lost its empire, and that the romance of Don Quixote, by its success and its philosophy, concealed under an attractive fiction, should have completed the ruin by fixing ridicule even upon its memory--a sentence indeed full of error; for real philosophy needs not to be concealed to be attractive. And Sir William Temple quotes the saying of a worthy Spaniard, who told him "that the History of Don Quixote had ruined the Spanish monarchy; for since that time men had grown ashamed of honour and love, and only thought of pursuing their fortune and satisfying their lust."

[2] Kenelm Digby, Esq., in his beautiful book entitled _Godefridus_, one of the volumes of the _Broad Stone of Honour_.

But surely such censure is misdirected--surely the downfall of Spain may be traced to other causes. It is not the spirit of heroism, or of Christian self-devotion, which Cervantes would put down. His manly writing can never be accused of that: misfortune had taught him too well in his own earlier days how to appreciate

such a virtue. In nothing is his consummate skill perceived more than in the way in which he prevents us from confounding the follies of the knights-errant, and of the debased books of romance, with the generous heart and actions of the true Christian gentleman. In spite of all his hallucination, who can help respecting Don Quixote himself? We laugh, indeed, at the ludicrous situations into which his madness is for ever getting him; but we must reverence the good Christian cavalier who, amidst all, never thinks less of any thing than of himself and of his own interest. What is his character? It is that of one possessing virtue, imagination, genius, kind feeling,--all that can distinguish an elevated soul, and an affectionate heart. He is brave, faithful, loyal, always keeping his word; he contends only for virtue and glory. Does he wish for kingdoms? it is only that he may give them to his good squire Sancho Panza. He is a constant lover, a humane warrior, an affectionate master, an accomplished gentleman. It is not, then, by describing such a man that Cervantes desired to ridicule real heroism; surely not: he would only shew that, even with all these good qualities, if they were misdirected or spoiled by vain imaginations, the most noble could only become ridiculous. He would teach us, that this is a world of _action_, and not of _fancy_; that it will not do for us to go out of ourselves and out of the world, and lead an ideal life: our duties are around us and within us; and we need not leave our own homes in order to seek adventures wherein those duties may be acceptably performed. He perceived that by knight-errantry and romances some of the holiest aspirations of the human heart were, according to the adage, which affirms that "there is but one step from the sublime to the ridiculous," by over-description and fulsome language, in danger of being exposed to ridicule, and so of being crushed; and he resolved, by excess of satire, to put a stop at once to such a danger,--to crush those books which were daily destroying that which he held most dear--the true spirit of chivalry, the true devotion of the Christian gentleman. "When the light of chivalry was expiring, Cervantes put his extinguisher upon it, and drove away the moths that alone still fluttered around it. He loved chivalry too well to be patient when he saw it parodied and burlesqued; and he perceived that the best way of preserving it from shame was, to throw over it the sanctity of death."[3]


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