Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

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being born in a university city, to which the youth of Madrid repaired for purpose^
of study, the capital being distant but four leagues, that there his education was com-
menced. He himself tells us that he had,* from his most tender years, a great taste
for letters, and he was so fond of reading, that he would pick up 9cr<xps of paper in the
street to peruse them. His inclination for poetry and for the theatre showed itself in
his admiration of the street-performances of the famous Lope de Rueda, an itinerant
actor and the founder of the Spanish theatre, whose performances Cervantes witnessed
at Segovia and Madrid, before he was eleven years of age.

The young Miguel having been sent to Salamanca, he passed two years there, and ma-
triculated among the students of that celebrated university. Here he became acquainted
with the manners of the students, which he has so well depicted in the second part of
"Don Quixote,*' and in two of his best noveb, **Le Licencie Vidriera" (The Graduate
Vidriera)i and " La Tia Fingida,'* (The Feigned Aunt). Somewhat later, we find
Cervantes at the school of a professor of considerable note, named Juan Lopez do

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Hojm. 'Una peraon, as Regent of tHe College, was directed, hj tke municipalitj ot
Idadrid to compose allegories and deriees, which were to adorn in the churrh of
Las Descalzas Reales the mausoleum of Queen Elizabeth of Yalois, on the occasion of
the magnificent funeral oeremonj celebrated there on the 24th of October, 156a
Hoyos required the assistance of some of his ablest pupils, and Cervantes is mentionec
among the first; and in the report which the Professor published recounting the sick-
ness, the death, and the obsequies of the Queen, he mentions the work of Gervantesi
whom he repeatedl^r terms ** his dear and well-belored disciple.** In the same pub.
licadon he likewise introduces an elegj and other verses written by this favourite scholar.

Upon the death of the Infant Don Carlos and the Queen Elizabeth, Pope Pius V.
sent a nuncio to Madrid, to offer to the King of Spain his condolence, and to claim
also certain rights of tiie church, which had been denied by Philip to his Italian
dominions. The nuncno, Giulio Acquaviva, son of the Duke of Atri, received a
Cardinal*s hat on his return from Spain. His mission was anything but agreeable to
Philip ; and in consequence the delegate of the Pope made but a short staj at Madrid.
He received hb passports on the 2nd of December, 1568, two months after his
arrival, with orders to return immediately to Italy, by the route of Valencia and
Barcelona. As Cervantes assures us himself that he served the Cardinal Acquaviva,
at Rome, in quality of chamberlain, it is probable that the nuncio, to whom the young
Miguel had been presented as one of the poets who had celebrated the obsequies of the
Queen, conceived a regard for him, and being struck with his talents, consented to
admit him into his service. It was a very common pisctice for Spanish young gen-
tlemen to accept such situations, either with the view of visiting Italy at little expense,
or in the hope of gaining church preferment, fVom the favour and influence of
their patrons;

In accompanying his new master to Rome, Cervantes passed through Valencia and
Barcelona, of which repeated mention is made in his writings. He also visited the
southern provinces of France, which he describes in his ** (xalatea,** for at no other
period of his life oould he have seen those countries.

Notwithstanding the lusfurious indolence which the ante-chamber of the Roman
Prelate offered to him, and the opportunity, more delightful still, which it afforded
him for indulging his taste for poetry, Cervantes did not remain long in this situation.
In the following year, 1569, he enrolled his name among the Spanish troops who then
occupied port of Italy. For gentlemen in poor circumstances, no prospect of advance-
ment was open but that offered by the church or the army f Cervantes preferred
anns, and became a private - soldier. He did not, however, go as a common soldier
according to our acceptation of the term, but, as the Spanish phrase runs, aseutar
piaza de toidado^ took the place of a soldier or volunteer.

At that period a great quarrel had just broken out, which arrayed Christianity and
Ishunism against each other, Selim the Second, violating treaties, having invaded, in
a time of profound peace, the Isle of Cyprus, belonging at that time to the Venetians,
who implored aid from Pope Pius V. The Pontiff ordered his galleys to join those
of Spain, under the orders of Marc- Antony Colona, and the Venetian galleys. Among
the forty-nine Spanish galleys which had united with the naval force of the Pope,
under the superior orders of John Andre Dorea, were twenty Neapolitan galleys,
oommaDded by the Marquis of Santa Cruz. These had reinforced their crews with five
thouand Spanish soldiers, among whom was the company of the brave Captain Dlcgo de
Urbina, in which Cervantes made the first trial of his new profession.

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Of the militaiy achievements of Cervantes little is on record. In the rocmorable
battle of Lepanto his galley, the Marqaesa, boarded The Captiun of Alexandria*
killed nearly five hundred Turks, with their commander, and captured the royal
standard of Egypt. In this conflict Cervantes received three arquebuss wounds, two
In the breast and one in the lefl hand, which was maimed ever after. Cervantes nen^
regretted the loss of his hand, but often declared that he i^plauded himself lor having
paid this price, that he might be counted among the soldiers of Lepanto ; he loved to
show his wounds, received, as he would say, " on the most glorious occasion which
had occured in that century, or in those which had preceded it, or which, it could
reasonably be hoped, would be witnessed for ages to come— a triumph, which was
among the stars destined to guide future warriors to the haven of honour.**

Cervantes, sick and wounded, was compelled to remain six months in the hospital of
Messina. Bon Juan, who had taken the most lively interest in his fate since the
battle, did not forget Cervantes in his sad retreat. Mention is made of little
pecuniary grants sent to him from the pay-office of the fleet, under date of the 16th
and 25th of January, and the 9th and 17th of March, 1572. Subsequently, when
Cervantes had regained his health, an order of the generalissimo, addressed on the
29th of April to the oflicial paymaster of the fleet, gave the high allowance of three
crowns per month to the soldier Cervantes, who served in a company of the la-
ment of Figueroa.

It appears, however, that his wound was not so severe as to incapacitate him from
further service; for in the disastrous campaign on the coast of the Morea in the
following year we find he also bore a part. He was subsequently engaged in the expe-
dition to Goletta ; and his company was among those chosen to take possession of
Tunis. Thence he returned to Palermo with the fleet ; and when he arrived in Italy he
obtained from Bon John permission to return to Spain, having been absent seven

From his connexion with these military expeditions, Cervantes was enabled to
travel through Italy. He visited Florence, Venice, Rome, Naples, Palermo, and the
College of Bologna, founded for Spaniards by Cardinal Albomoz. He acquired the
Italian language, and applied himself assiduously to the study of Italian literature.

Cervantes at that period was twenty-eight years of age ; and, having borne the
fatigues of three campaigns, might reasonably hope in approaching the court to
receive a recompense for his brilliant services. Bon Juan of Aiistria gave him letters
to the King, in which he entreated Philip to confer on him the command of one of the
companies then in the course of being Raised in Spain to serve in Italy or Flanders.
The viceroy of Sicily, Bon Carlos of Arragon, Buke de Sesa, recommended also to
the favour of the King and his ministers a soldier, till then neglected, who had
won by his valour, his wit, and his exemplary conduct, the esteem of his comrades and
also of his commanders.

Provided with such powerful recommendations, Cervantes embarked at Naples in
the Spanish galley El Sol (the Sun), with his elder brother, Rodrigo, a soldier like
himself, the general of artillery, PedrD Biez Carillo de Quesada, the late governor of
Goletta, and many other military officers of distinction, who were, like himself,
returning to their country. But new trials awaited Cervantes ; for on the 26th of
^ptember, 1575, the galley £1 Sol was captured by an Algerine squadron, and be
mth the rest of his countrymen conducted in triumph to the port of Algiers, wfaare
the captives were divided among their conquerors.

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The letters Arand on the person of Cerrantes led to the supposition thst he was a
Spanbh gentleman of noble family, and of great importance in his own coontrj; and,
to obtain a high price and an early ransom, he was loaded with chains, thrown into
prison, and subjected to all kinds of privations and tortures.

. This disastrous termination to his voyage, though it depressed, could not extinguish
the indomitable spirit of Cervantes : he became the life and oracle of his companions,
and under his leadership several attempts were made to escape. Their first design
w«s to proceed by land, as other captives had done, to Oran, which belonged at that
time to Spain. They so far succeeded as to get out of Algiers with the assistance
of a Moor of that country, who had been gained over by Cervantes to act as guide.
This man, however, abandoned them on the second day, and the fugitives had no
resource but to return to the houses of their masters, there to receive chastisement
for their attempt to escape. Cervantes was considered the chief actor in the plot.

Some of his companions, among others, the ensign Gabriel de Castaneda, were ran-
somed about the middle of the year 1576. Castaneda took upon himself to carry
letters to the parents of Cervantes, giving an account of the deplorable situation of
himself and brother ; and Bodrigo de Cervantes, their father, sold or mortgaged the small
patrimony of his son, hb own property, which was little more considerable, and even
the dowries of his two unmarried sisters — thus condemning the whole family to
poverty — and sent the produce of the sales and the mortgage to Cervantes to pur-
chase his freedom. His master, Dali-Mami, however, set too high a value on his captive to
allow him to be ransomed on moderate terms ^ and his demands were so exorbitant
that Cervantes was obliged to renounce the hope of purchasing his liberty. He gene-
rously appropriated his share of the money to redeem his brother, a lower price
being set upon him, and he was liberated in August, 1577. On leaving, he promised
to fit out from Valencia or the Balearic Isles «n armed frigate, which should proceed
io a certain indicated part of the African coast, to liberate his brother and the other
Christians. Qe carried with him pressing letters, praying that this might be done^
from many captives of high birth, to the viceroys of the maritime provinces.

This project was connected with a plan formed long before by Cervantes. Three
miles from Algiers, on the eastern side of the town, there was a garden and summer-
house belonging to Kaid Hassan a renegade Greek. One of his slaves named Juan, a
Spaniard, and native of Navarre, had secretly dug in this garden, which he was employed
to cultivate, a sort of cave or subterranean apartment. Thither, in obedience to
directions given by Cervantes, the captive Christians successively repaired, as oppor-
tunity offered, and made it their residence. Their number, when Rodrigo left for
Spain, amounted to fourteen or fifteen ; and Cervantes without quitting his master,
governed this little subterranean republic, providing for the wants and safety of its
members. This fact, which proves the great resources of his mind, might be some-
what doubted, if it were not proved by a multitude of testimonies and documents.
He had for his principal assistant a Navarrese named Juan, who kept the Vicket,
and would not suffer any ^ne to approach Hassan*s garden ; and another slave called
el Dorador (the Gilder), who was charged with the task of carrying food to the
cavern, which no one was allowed to leave but at night. When Cervantes thought
the arrival of the frigate might be expected, he made his escape from the house of
Dali-Mami, and, after taking leave of his friend, the Doctor Antonio de Sosa, who
was too ill to accompany or follow him, took up his abode in the subterranean retreat.

HiflcalcuLitiDn was correct. The frigate arrived withm sight of Algiers on the

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28th of S^tembec, aadf standing off at sea all day^ she apinroadbed st night the spot
^;reed upon, to comvuinicate with the captives* Unfortunatdy, howeTer, some fish-
ermen perceived the Chxistian fHgate> notwithstanding the darkness. They gave the
alarm, and the frigate was obliged to stand out to sea. She subsequently attempted to
approach the shore a second time, but the Moora were on their guard ; they surprised
the frigate where it was intended to ^ect a landing, and made prisoners of all on

Thus far Cervantes and his COTotpanions had patiently endured, in the hope of
regaining their liberty, all their privationa ; but hope now failed them. The morn-
ing after the capture of the frigate, the Gilder (a renegade* in whom Cervantes had
reposed the utmost confidence), betrayed their, retreat to the Dej of Algiers, Hassan-
Aga : and the Dey, delighted with such intelligence, which enabled him, according to
the custom of that country, to appropriate all the Christians, as lost slaves, to himself,
sent the commandant of his guards, with thirty Turkish soldiers, to arrest the
fugitives, and the gardener who concealed them; ordering the prisoners to be con-
ducted to a building reserved for his slaves, and their chief immediately brought
before him: Cervantes, loaded with chains, was conducted from the cavern on foot
to the palace of Hassan, amidst the angry hootings of the excited populace.

The Dey employed alternately the most flattering promises and the most tenible
threats, to induce him to betray his accomplices; but Cervantes, deaf to all he could
urge, inaccessible to fear, persisted in accusing himself alone. The Dey, tired of
attempting to shake his resolution, and doubtless in some degree touched by hia
magnanimity, contented himself witK" ordering him to be chained in his slave-
house, or prison.

The greater part of the prisoners were dumed by their former masters, and Cer-
vantes himself was again placed in the power of Dali-Mami. The Dey purchased
him shortly afterwards for five hundred crowns, declaring that ^ he could not think
his captives, his vessels, nor even his city secure unless the Spaniard were strictly

This Hassan- Aga, who was of Venetian origin, and whose real name was Andreta, was
one of the most ferocious wretches who ever polluted the earth ; the atrocities com-
mitted by him are detailed by Cervantes in his " Captive Captain.**

Notwithstanding the rigour of his captivity, notwithstanding the imminent peril
which threatened him on each attempt to escape, Cervantes never ceased using to
that end all the means which offered. In the course of the year 1578, he contrived
to send a Moor to Oran, with letters addressed to Don Martin de Cordova,
governor of the fortress ; but this emissary was arrested at the moment the object
of his expedition was on the point of being attained, and he, with his despatches,
was brought back to the Dey of Algiers. Hassan- Aga caused the unfortunate mes-
senger to be impaled ; and condemned Cervantes, whose signature was attached to the
letters, to receive two thousand lashes. Some friends, however, who at the time sur-
rounded the Dey, interposed their good ofiices, and once more the usually pitiless Bassan
pardoned him. His clemency in this case was the more remarkable as at this period
the barbarian caused three Spanish ci^tives to be beaten to death in hb presence^
whose crime was, that they had attempted to fly by the same road, and who had been
seized and brought back to Algiers by the natives.

Notwithstanding these repeated disasters, Cervantes was unceasingly occupied with
plans for effecting his own emancipatipn and that of his companions. About Sep-

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mrut ▲ xoncB ov bis wobks. b

Vux«ber« 1579, he formed «n acquaintance with a Spanish renegade, who was a natire
of Grenada, where he called himself the licentiate Giron, but who had awnmed wiih
the turban the name of Abd-al-Rhamen. This person seemed to repent the course
he had pnrsued, and manifested a desire to return to hb own country : in concert with
him Gerrantes formed a new project for effecting their escape, and they applied for
aid to two Yalencian merchants established in Algiers. Both favoured the scheme;
an armed frigate was purchased, under the pretence of going on a cruise, the crew
engaged, and many persons of distinction, apprized by Cervantes of what was in con-
templation, only waited for the signal to embark ; when a contemptible wretch named
Joan Blanco de Paz, a Dominican monk, like another Judas, attracted by the vile
hope of gain, betrayed to the Dey the scheme of his countrymen.

When brought before Hassan Aga, Cervantes resolutely refused to disclose who
were his accomplices ; and, by an extraordinary exercise of clemency, the Dey merely
ordered him to be kept in prison, and exiled the licentiate Giron to the kingdom of
Fez. Cervantes remained shackled in his dungeon for five months; when his liber-
ation was effected by the ordinary means of ransom, chiefly through the exertions of his
mother and sister — the former, although now a widow, contributing two hundred and
fifty reals, and the latter, fifty. When the commissioners, Juan Gil and Antonio de
la Bella, who had been despatched to purchase the freedom of the captives belonging
to the provinces of Castile and Andalusia, arrived at Algiers (May 29th, 1580) they
found great difliculty in procuring the liberation of Cervantes. The Dey demanded
a thousand crowns for his freedom, being double the sum he had given for him, and
threatened that if this sum was not paid at once he would carry his slave to Constan-
tinople, whither he was on the point of embarking, in obedience to a firman of the
Grand Seignor. The father Juan Gil, however, used such earnest prayers and en*
treaties that he at length effected his ransom by paying five hundred crowns in Spa-
nish gold ; in order to raise this sum, finding it necessary to borrow from several
European merchants^ and to infringe considerably on the general redemption fund
which had been entrusted to him and his brother commissioner. On the 19th of
Septeuiber, 1580, Cervantes was once more a free man ; and about the end of October,
in the same year, he experienced, to use his own expression, "one of the greatest joys
a human being can taste in this world — that of returning after a long period of slavery
safe and sound to his native land.**

But misfortune soon drove him from the bosom of his family. His brother Rodrigo
had re-entered the service, and our author resolved to follow his example. Accord-
ingly, notwithstanding his mutilated arm, he resumed the musket of a private soldier ;
and in the summer of 1581 embarked in the squadron of Don Pedro Yaldez, under
orders to moke a descent on the Azores ; and was present in the naval battle gained
on the 25th of July in the following year, by the Marquis of Santa Cruz, within sight
of the island of Terceira, over the French fleet which had taken part with the Por-
tugese insurgents. Cervantes and his brother were also present at the taking of
Terceira, which was captured by assault.

In the interval between his campaigns Cervantes became passionately in love with
a young lady, of noble family, of the little town of £squivias, in Castile, named
Donna Catalina de Palacios Salasar y Yosmediano, and wrote in her honour the pas-
toral poem of " La Galatea.** • It cannot be doubted that Cervantes in this poem, which
he calls an eclogue, under the name of Elicio, a shepherd on the banks of the Tagus,
deacribei his own adventuref^ and his own love. The " Galatea,** of which the first part

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only is extant, is characterised bj purity of style, beanty in its descriptiye portion^
and delicacy in its love passages. His shepherds, however, are philosophers and orators,
and episode is crowded on episode with scant regard to order and with but indifferent
taste. Cerrantes himself was conscious of these defects, and alludes to them in the
prologue. The ^* Galatea** was published towards the close of 1584 ; and on the
14th of December of that year Cerrantes, then thirty-seven years of age, married
the heroine of his poem. Donna Catalina. The marriage contract, recently discovered
in the public registry of Esquivias, describes the lady*s dowry, and presents a curious
list of items — from twelve acres of vineyards descending to the enumeration of beds,
chairs, brooms, brushes, and poultry, with several saclfs of flour; thb last was an im-
portant item, a sack of wheat being valued at eight reals : altogether the dowry was
held to be a highly respectable one. The same document records that Cervantes made
a settlement of a hundred ducats on his wife, being one-tenth part of his entire

Cervantes was now become a private citizen of Esquivias, and, like his neighbours,^
employed himself in superintending his estate. The dull monotony of such a life,
however, ill accorded with the activity of his mind ; and accordingly — ^whether im^
pelled thereto by the pressure from without, or merely following the bent of his own
inclinations, is not ascertained — ^we find him soon returning to literature. For the
four years immediately following his marriage he became a man of letters ; giving up,
however, pastoral poetry, which brought him no recompense, and devoting himself
exclusively to the drama. His first production was a comedy of six acts, founded on
his own adventures, entitled ^ Las Tratas de Argel.** This was followed by about
twenty others ; the majority of which are crude and inartistic, and entitle the author
to no very great meed of praise. His best productions for the stage are his interludes,
a species of farce then played between the acts of more important performances.
Cervantes did not find the drama so productive of either profit gr fame as he had
imagined ; besides, a greater favourite than he. Lope de Vega, claimed that province as his
own. Cervantes was obliged to succumb, and retired discomfitted and disappointed
fi*oro the field of dramatic literature.

lie was at this period about forty years of age; and, burthened with a large family,
wl.ich was increased by two sisters and a natural daughter, he accepted an ofier of
a situation as clerk to Antonio de Guevara, a victualler to the navy at Seville. Pre-
viously to this, he had petitioned the king for employment in America, which be
called " the refuge for destitute Spaniards ;** but he met with the common treatment
of those who put their trust in princes — ^no notice whatever was taken of him or his
petition. Cervantes resided a considerable time at Seville ; so long indeed as to have
ffven rise to the belief that it was his birth-place ; but eventually even the humble
clerkship failed him, the office being suppressed ; and then he entered on what may be
termed a commission-agency. His greatest friend at this juncture would appear to be
Don Hernando de Toledo, of Cigales. It was at Seville, and under the depressing
circumstances we have narrated, that Cervantes wrote most of his novels — which were
the first ever written in the Spanish language, preceding writers having confined
themselves to translations of the licentious tales of the Decameron, and to effete
imitations of Boccaccio. The occasion of Cervantes' departure from Seville was an
accusation of malversation of ofiice while employed in the victualling department of
the Royal dockyard; but, although he was arrested, and thrown into prison at
Madrid, there is reason to believe that no stain of dish<mour attaches to Cervantes,

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who was merely an agent in the transaction., It was, nevertheless, a source of infinite

Online LibraryMiguel de Cervantes SaavedraAdventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha → online text (page 2 of 89)