Joseph Forster.

Some French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon online

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Online LibraryJoseph ForsterSome French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon → online text (page 17 of 19)
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TORUVIO. Fourteen or fifteen dineros.


MENCI. Yes, father.

AGUEDA. Yes, father 1 Take that (beating her), and
that; and do as I bid you.

TORUVIO. Leave the child alone.

MENCI. Oh, mother ! Oh, father ! don't kill me !

Enter ALOJA, a neighbour.

ALOJA. What's this, neighbours 1 Why do you beat
jour child thus ?

AGUEDA. Ah, sir, this wretched man pretends to sell
things under price, and ruin his family. . . . Some olives
its big as walnuts 1 ...

TORUVIO. I swear by the bones of my ancestors they
are not as big as millet-seeds.

AGUEDA. Yes, they are.

TORUVIO. No, they are not.

ALOJA. Come, neighbour, be good enough to go in ;
I will undertake to arrange this matter. (Exit AGUEDA.)
Now, Toruvio, explain. Bring out your olives, that I may
see and measure them ; and I will promise to buy them all.

TORUVIO. But the olives are not in the house ; as yet
they are only in the ground.

ALOJA. Then bring them here ; you may be sure I
will give you a fair price.

MENCI. My mother says she will have two reals a

/ /


ALOJA. That's enormously dear.

TORUVIO. Doesn't it seem so to you 1

MENCI. My father only asks fourteen dineros.

ALOJA. Show me a sample.

TORUVIO. A sample 1 God bless me ! you don't under-
stand. To-day I planted an olive-tree, and my wife says
that in six or seven years hence it will yield us four or


five measures; that she will gather them, I will carry
them to market, and our daughter sell them, and the
price is to be two reals a peck. I say, No ; she says,
Yes ; and there's a dispute and a row.

ALOJA. What a pleasant subject for a dispute ! Who-
ever heard the like ? The olives are scarcely planted, and
they cause the poor girl to cry.

MENCI. Doesn't it look absurd, sir 1

TORUVIO. Don't cry, my child. That girl, sir, is worth
her weight in gold. Go and prepare supper, and I will
buy you a frock from the money we get from our first

ALOJA. And you go home, too, neighbour, and live
in peace with your wife.

TORUVIO. Adieu, sir. [Exit, mth his daughter.

ALOJA. Well, we certainly do see strange things in
this world. The olives have not grown, and yet they
have caused quarrels !

To resume Cervantes' vivid sketch :

' Naharro, a native of Toledo, succeeded to Lope de
Rueda. He attained a great celebrity, more especially
in his representations of a busy, meddling poltroon.
Naharro added something to the stage decorations, and
changed the bag in which the wardrobe was contained
for trunks and portmanteaux. He introduced music upon
the stage, which had formerly been placed in the back-
ground ; and he took away the actors' beards ; for, until
his time, no actor dared to appear without a false beard.
He, on the contrary, wished all his actors to appear un-
disguised, with the exception of those who represented
old men, or changed their characters. He was a great


inventor; he invented scenes, clouds, thunder, lightning,
challenges and combats, but nothing of this kind was
carried to the perfection which, at this day, we behold
(and it is here that I must trespass upon my modesty),
until the time when the theatre of Madrid exhibited the
Captives of Algiers, which is my own composition, as are
also Numantia and the Naval Engagement.

1 It was then that I made an attempt to reduce the
comedies of five acts to three, and I was the first to
represent the phantoms of the imagination, and the
hidden thoughts of the soul, by introducing figures of
them upon the stage, with the universal applause of the
spectators. I composed, during this period, from twenty
to thirty dramas, all of which were represented without a
single cucumber, or orange, or any other missile, usually
aimed at bad comedians, being flung at the actors' heads.
They proceeded through their parts without hisses, with-
out confusion, and without clamoui'. I was at length
occupied with other matters, and I laid down my pen
and forsook the drama. In the meantime that prodigy,
Lope de Vega, appeared, and immediately assumed the
dramatic crown. He seduced under his dominion all the
farce-writers, and filled the world with excellent and
well-combined comedies, of which he wrote so many
that they could not be comprised in ten thousand
pages. What is no less surprising, he himself saw
them all represented, or was credibly informed that
they had been so. All his rivals together have not
written a moiety of what he himself achieved alone.'

When Cervantes speaks of his own dramatic
work in his old age, his simplicity and gaiety is


very touching, because he was evidently deeply
wounded at the neglect of his plays.

' Some years ago,' he says, ' I returned to the ancient
occupation of my leisure hours ; and, imagining that the
age had not passed away in which I used to hear the
sound of praise, I again began to write comedies. The
birds, however, had flown from their nest. I could find
no manager to ask for my plays, though they knew that
I had written them. I threw them, therefore, into the
corner of a trunk, and condemned them to obscurity.
A bookseller then told me that he would have bought
them from me, had he not been told by a celebrated
author that much dependence might be placed upon my
prose, but not upon my poetry. To say the truth, this
information mortified me much. I said to myself,
" Cervantes, you are certainly either changed, or the
world, contrary to its custom, has grown wiser, for in
past times you used to meet with praise." I read my
comedies anew, together with some interludes, which I
had placed with them. I found that they were not so
bad, but that they might pass, from what this author
called darkness, into what others might perhaps term
noon-day. I was angry, and sold them to the bookseller,
who has now printed them. They have paid me tolerably ;
and I have pocketed my money with pleasure, and with-
out troubling myself about the opinions of the actors ; I
\v;is willing to make them as excellent as I could, and if,
dear reader, thou findest anything in them good, I pray
thee, when thou meetest any other calumniator, to tell
him to amend his manners, and not to judge so severely,
since, after all, the plays contain not any incongruities or
striking faults.'


It may appear very daring to compare the author
of Don Quisote with -ZEschylus ; but Numantia may be
compared with the Persians for the burning intensity
of its patriotism. The city of Numantia is attacked
by the Romans, and the heroic defenders prefer death
in any form to surrender to the hated enemy.

' Numantia only, careless of her blood,
Has dared to draw her shining sword and strike
For that old liberty she long has cherished.
But now, oh grief ! her time of doom is near ;
Her fatal hour approaches, and her life
Is waning to its close ; but her bright fame
Shall still survive, and, like the phoenix, burst
More glorious from her ashes.'

In one of Cervantes' novels Asturiano goes to
market for the purpose of buying an ass.

' He examined a great many, but did not meet with
one that took his fancy. A gipsy followed him about,
and endeavoured to persuade him that he had one that
would exactly suit him, but Asturiano thought it was too
small and weak, although it appeared to be very lively ;
besides, he mistrusted the gipsy ; in addition, some one
pointed out to him that the ass moved so briskly because
quicksilver had been put into his ears. The man who
told him this had his own views, for, a moment after-
wards, he whispered to Asturiano that, if he was seeking
for an animal fit to cany water, he had, in a meadow
near, the finest ass he ever saw in his life. " Follow me,"


said he, " I will only take you a few steps." Asturiano-
consented, and the other seized him by the arm, like an
old friend, and led him to a large field, where they found
a number of water-carriers watching their asses graze.
Asturiano approved of the animal, and counted down
twelve ducats for the ass and trappings necessary for the
occupation of a water-oarrier. There was vast delight
amongst the water-carriers when they made the ac-
quaintance of their new associate ; they congratulated
Asturiano on becoming a member of their body, and all
assured him that he had obtained a most valuable animal ;
for, " be assured," added they, " that the man from whom
you bought him, now about to return to his own country,
has gained in one year two full suits of clothes and the
twelve ducats which you have just paid him, besides
having fed and supported himself and his ass very
creditably." Four of the water-carriers now agreed to
play at the game of prime, and immediately seated them-
selves on the grass, the ground serving for a table, and
their cloaks for a carpet, Asturiano placed himself to
overlook them, and was greatly surprised to find how
boldly they played. The stakes ran high ; two of the
players in a short time lost their all and withdrew. The
seller of the ass had a great desire to try his fortune, but,
as he thought the game would be awkward with only
three players, he said to Asturiano that if he would make
the fourth he would stake a few ducats. Asturiano, who
never willingly broke up a party, and was a skilful player,
readily agreed to play. They seated themselves on the
grass, and the game went on so rapidly that in less than
an hour Asturiano had lost seven or eight crowns of gold.
' " You have a great superiority over me," said he to
his opponents, "but no matter; I have no more money


about me, but I have my ass, and I will stake him, if you
please ; he is, as you well know, strong and valuable, and
I will either lose him or recover my unfortunate crowns."

' Asturiano was taken at his word, and it was arranged
that they should play for the ass by quarters. He was
most fortunate at the beginning of the play, but his first
gains were soon retaken by his opponents, and he lost one
quarter of his donkey ; this was soon followed by the loss
-of another quarter ; in fact, in a short time he lost the
four quarters, and the man who won them was the very
man who had just sold him the animal.

' " So you return again to me, my dear ass !" said the
winner, laughing. " Come, then, my profitable companion,
my dear little Mexico ! But I shall not be thy master long ;
I shall sell thee again on the first good opportunity."

' Then he rose to take possession of his beloved

' " Stop ! stop there, my friend !" exclaimed Asturiano,
" do not be in such a hurry to seize the sacrifice ; the ass
is not wholly yoiirs. I know well that I have lost four
-quarters of the animal, and that those four quarters
belong to you. I do not dispute that fact, and you may
take them away whenever you please, but the ass's tail
belongs to me, as I have not yet staked that."

' This statement made all the water-carriers shout with

' " You may laugh as much as you like," continued
Asturiano, gravely, " but I have not lost the tail of my
ass, and he who will have it must first win it."

'"What!" exclaimed the water-carrier; "how can
that be? When we sell a sheep, for example, we do
not separate the tail. Does not the tail belong to one
of the hind quarters'!"


' " That is true," replied Asturiauo, " with respect to
sheep in general, but I maintain it is wholly false with
regard to the sheep of Barbary. Those sheep have really
five quarters, and the tail forms the fifth. It is true,"
continued he, " that when they sell sheep alive they sell
the whole together, that is, all the five quarters, but my
ass has only been played for ; he has not been sold at all ;
I never thought of hazarding his tail, and surely no person
can possibly tell, better than myself, what my intentions
were in this respect. Give me, then, the tail, and take
the four quarters. That each should have his own is
quite right, and if any one attempts to act otherwise he
must first settle with me. I know very well how to
protect my right, and I mean to do it Your number
renders you powerful," said he to the water-carriers, with
an angry countenance, " but if your number were ten
times greater, if you were all the water-carriers in the
world, I would have you know that I don't fear you. I
say, in addition, that if you were to offer me the value of
the tail ten times told I would not take it. I will have
the tail itself, and nothing else, so that you have only to
dismember the ass this instant, so that I may have my tail."

c He threw his cap into the air, showed them a glit-
tering dagger under his cloak, and, putting himself in the
posture of a man ready to fight, he appeared so formidable
to the water-carriers, that not one amongst them dared to

'"What do you intend to do?" inquired one of the
men of the winner of the four quarters of the donkey.
" Asturiano may not be quite right, but, at the same
time, he is not altogether wrong, as the point in dispute
ought to have been well understood before the game


' Pressed on all sides, by one and the other, the
general opinion being that it was better for the winner
to play one of the quarters against the tail, rather than
risk his life for such a trifle, he agreed at last to this
proposal. This was just what Asturiano wanted, and,
seeing his opponent somewhat frightened, he, in a friendly
manner, shook him cordially by both hands, and they
again seated themselves to continue the game. The
stake was for the tail against one quarter. Asturiano
won it ; he won another immediately after ; in short,
he won back his ass. Never was a man more astonished
than the water-carrier.

' " You have won back your ass," said he to Asturiano.
"I do not know how it has happened; but I would
rather that you should win him than see my old com-
panion cut to pieces. Let us play for the money."

' " I have done," said Asturiano. " I am satisfied ; I
care not for the loss of my golden crowns, but I will not
again hazard the loss of my ass, as your 'dear little
Mexico' will produce me a livelihood."

'But Asturiauo could not resist their urgent impor-
tunities to play again, and he continued to play so
successfully that he did not leave even half a real to
the water-carrier. It is impossible to describe the
mortification and despair of this ruined knave, whom
nothing could console.'

I must not dwell further on Cervantes' minor
works, but will pass to his great masterpiece, Don

This work contains the hoarded experience of a
life. It was written when its author was declining


in years. No young man could have written it,
because no young man can be a master, especially
of liumour and human nature. Don Quixote himself
is a character of the most complex kind. His single-
heartedness, his enthusiasm, his utter want of the
sense of the ridiculous, his power of adding romantic
charms and romantic attributes to a frowsy servant
girl, are developed and used by the author with a
variety of power that has never been equalled. Don
Quixote's life is entirely in the imagination ; this
enables him to see castles in windmills, beauty and
refinement in coarseness and vulgarity, and poetry,
wisdom, and genius in bombastic and absurd works
on chivalry, love, and knight-errantry. To emphasise
the romantic and preposterous exaltation of the mad
gentleman of La Mancha, we have his coarse, vulgar,
practical, almost grovelling squire, Sancho Paiiza.
The master lives in the clouds ; Sancho is most at
home in the mud. Everything that can be done to
bring out the contrast between these two characters
is put in the most amusing and effective manner.
!N"o extracts could convey to the reader the adven-
tures of the master and man at the inn, a very vulgar
inn, too, which Don Quixote takes for an enchanted
castle, in spite of the smell of rancid oil and garlic,
and where, as a climax to all the other piled-up
absurdities, poor Sancho, who is short and fat, is
tossed in a blanket. Don Quixote always expresses
himself in a stilted and oratorical manner ; Sancho's
language is of the coarsest kind, and is interlarded
with the vulgarest illustrations and proverbs. His


master is tall, attenuated, in fact, merely skin and
bone, his face is long, his nose prominent, his eyes
hollow and very bright ; Sancho, on the contrary, is
short, fat, his face is round, eyes small and pig-like,
mouth large and coarse, nose nothing to speak of ; in
fact, it is a contrast between the poetical gone mad
and the coarsest realism.

This work was the delight of Spain ; it was read
with shouts of laughter by the king and the'peasant.
Poor Don Quixote is a type of the fatal results which
follow the possession of romantic feelings and enthu-
siasm without common sense to guide and control
them. On the other hand, and that is the priceless
lesson of the book, his man, Saiicho Panza, shows what
the mere worship of ease and vulgar prudence will de-
grade a man to. If the enthusiasm and mad exal-
tation of Don Quixote could have been combined
with a little of the vulgar self-love of Sancho, one
extreme might have corrected the other, and we
might have had a wise gentleman instead of a
maniac and a brute.

Such was the success of this wonderful work
that, as Philip III. was one afternoon standing in
a balcony of his palace at Madrid, he observed a
student on the banks of the river Manzanares, with
a book in his hand, which delighted him so much
that, every now and then, he broke into an ecstasy
of laughter. The king looked at him and, turning
to his courtiers, said, ' That man is either mad or
reading Don Quixote.'

Although the king thought so highly of this


great work, its author was bowed down by poverty
and infirmities, and nothing was done for him by the
king or his courtiers.

The last glimpse of the life of Cervantes I have
space for is from his own inimitable pen, and is
taken from the preface to the Labours of Persiks and
Sigmnunda, which was published by the author's

' It happened afterwards, dear reader, that as two of
my friends and myself were coming from Esquivias, a
place famous for twenty reasons, but more especially for
its illustrious families and for its excellent wines, I heard
a man coming behind us, whipping his nag with all his
might, and seemingly very desirous of overtaking us.
Presently he called out to us to stop, which we did ;
and when he came up he turned out to be a country
student, dressed in brown, with spatterdashes and round-
toed shoes. He had a sword in a huge sheath, and a
band tied with tape. He had indeed but two tapes, so
that his band got out of its place, which he took great
pains to rectify.

' " Doubtless," said he, " sefiors, you are in quest of
some office or some prebend at the court of my lord of
Toledo, or from the king, if I may judge from the cele-
rity with which you get along ; for, in good truth, my
ass has hitherto had the fame of a good trotter, and yet
he could not overtake you."

' One of my companions answered, " It is the steed of
Senor Miguel de Cervantes that is the cause of it, for he
is very quick in his paces."

' Scarcely had the student heard the name of Cervantes


than, throwing himself off his ass, while his cloak-bag
tumbled on one side and his portmanteau on the other,
and his bands covered his face, he sprang towards me,
and, seizing me by the hand, exclaimed :

c " This, then, is the famous one-handed author, the
merriest of all writers, the favourite of the Muses ! " As
for me, when I heard him pouring forth all these praises,
I thought myself bound to answer him ; so, embracing
his neck, by which I contrived to pull off his bands
altogether, I said, " I am indeed that Cervantes, senor,
but not the favourite of the Muses, nor the other fine
things which you have said of me. Pray mount your ass
again, and let us converse together for the small remainder
of our journey." The good student did as I desired. We
then drew bit and proceeded at a more moderate pace.
As we rode on, we talked of my illness, but the student
gave me little hope, saying :

' " It is an hydropsy, which all the water in the ocean,
if you could drink it, would not cure ; you must drink
less, Senor Cervantes, and not forget to eat, for that alone
can cure you."

' " Many other people," said I, " have told me the
same thing, but it is impossible for me not to drink as if
I had been born for nothing but drinking. My life is
pretty nearly ended, and, to judge by the quickness of my
pulse, I cannot live longer than next Sunday. You have
made acquaintance with me at a very unfortunate time,
as I fear I shall not live to show my gratitude to you for
your obliging conduct."

' Such was our conversation when we arrived at the
bridge of Toledo, over which I was to pass, while he fol-
lowed another route by the bridge of Segovia.

' As to my future history, I leave that to the care of


fame. My friends, no doubt, will be very anxious to
narrate it, and I shall have great pleasure in hearing it.
I embraced him anew, and repeated the offer of my

' He spurred his ass, and left me as ill inclined to pro-
secute my journey as he was well disposed to go on his ;
he had, however, supplied my pen with ample materials
for pleasantry. But all times are not the same. Perhaps
the day may yet arrive when, taking up the thread which
I am now compelled to break, I may complete what is
now wanting, and what I would fain tell. But adieu to
gaiety ; adieu to humour ; adieu, my pleasant friends ! I
must now die, and I wish for nothing better than speedily
to see you well contented in another world.'

Such was the calm, philosophical gaiety with
which this long-suffering heroic man and Christian
contemplated his approaching death; and, in the
words of Sismondi, it may be safely asserted that
this unaffected fortitude was characteristic of ' the
soldier who fought so valiantly at Lepanto, and who
so firmly supported his five years' captivity in

Cervantes died at Madrid in 1616. It is, perhaps,
interesting to reflect that he was a contemporary
of Shakespeare, so that the two greatest humourists
the world has produced were living at the same

The following is Cervantes' description of his own
personal appearance. He supposes, in his preface to
his ' Exemplary Novels,' that one of his friends was
going to engrave his portrait for the frontispiece,


and that the following inscription was to accompany

' Him whom you see here, with aquiline visage, chest-
nut hair, his forehead high and open, with lively animated
eyes, his nose curved though well proportioned, a silver
beard (though not twenty years ago it was all golden),
large moustachios, a small mouth, but few teeth, and
those so bad and ill-assorted that they don't care to
preserve harmony with each other, a body neither fat nor
lean, neither tall nor short, a clear complexion, rather
light than brown, a little stooping in the shoulders and
not very light of foot is the author of Galatea, and
of Don Quixote de la Mancha, and of other works which
run through the streets as if they had lost their way, and,
perhaps, without the name of their master. ... He is
commonly called Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra; and,
lastly, as this occasion has failed me, and I may remain
blank without cutting & figure, it becomes necessary that
I should make myself known by my tongue, which,
though lisping, will be at no loss to say truths which can
be well understood by signs.'

The following passage, on the place of burial of
Cervantes, is from the pen of a Spanish author,
Navarette :

' The misfortunes which pursued Cervantes during his
life seemed to follow him even into the tomb, and to
conceal the spot where he lay in the silent seclusion of
the cloisters. The same doubt and uncertainty which
attached to the circumstances of the daughter extended
to the fate of the father ; the actual spot where they
repose must ever remain unknown, but the obscurity in
which so interesting a fact remains involved cannot,


fortunately, diminish the lustre of that fame which fills
the world, and it should rather act as an inducement to
his grateful countrymen to repair, as far as may be, the

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Online LibraryJoseph ForsterSome French and Spanish men of genius. Sketches of Marivaux, Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Beaumarachais, Mirabeau, Danton and Robespierre, Béranger, Victor Hugo, Eugéne Sue and Zola, Cervantes and Lope de Vega, Calderon → online text (page 17 of 19)