Chapter Five: Don Quixote In Translation

Don Quixote was translated first into English (1612 ), and then into French (1614), and Italian (1622). Although translated into German in 1621, this version did not appear in print until 1648, and even then included only the first twenty-three chapters of Part I. The Peabody Library's Cervantes Collection is strongest in its number of translations into English. Thomas Shelton, the first translator of Cervantes' masterpiece into English, based his version of Part I of Don Quixote (London, 1612) on the Brussels edition of 1607. Shelton's translation of Part II of the novel (London, 1620) again points to a Brussel's edition of the Spanish text, printed in 1616, less than a year after Part II of Don Quixote had originally appeared in Madrid. Shelton's translation was the most popular version in England in the seventeenth century, even though it was reprinted only twice, in 1652 and 1675.

Soon after its second printing appeared in 1652, Edmund Gayton published his Pleasant Notes upon Don Quixot., selecting key passages from the Shelton version for commentary and emphasizing Cervantes' comic art.

Other English translations began to compete, however, each one attempting to capture the flavor of the original in up-to-date language and style, while indirectly calling attention to the shortcomings of previous versions. The obscure John Phillips, nephew of the poet John Milton, published a new translation of Don Quixote in 1687, depending heavily on Shelton while appearing to distance himself from the earlier translator. On the title page he advertizes a new translation, "[n]ow made English according to the Humour of our Modern Language AND adorned with several copper plates."

The turn of the eighteenth century witnessed two new translations of the novel. In 1700 Capt. John Stevens published his revised Shelton version and added his own translation of a spurious continuation of Don Quixote that had appeared in Spain in 1614. Unfortunately for Stevens, however, was the appearance in the same year of Peter Motteaux's translation, whose witty style and idiomatic rendering overwhelmed Steven's contribution. The popularity of Motteaux's translation was lasting: It was reprinted as the Modern Library Series edition of the novel until recent times.

The most popular translation of the eighteenth century, however, was that of Charles Jervas (or Jarvis) in 1742. Jarvis was a portrait painter who had a strong sense of his own talent and worth. He was the first translator to point out the infelicities of previous English versions of the novel. His literal-mindedness yielded an "accurate" translation, but he failed to convey the colloquial style of the original. Even so, more than 100 editions were printed in England and the United States, most of them accompanied with engravings.

Better known by modern readers, however, is Tobias Smollett's translation published in 1755. Although accused of knowing little Spanish and depending too heavily on Jarvis' version, Smollett's translation proved to be popular at the time, with thirteen editions circulating within a few years. More significant perhaps is his comment in the Continuation of the Complete History of England (1761) of the link between Cervantes and Fielding: "The genius of Cervantes was transfused into the novels of Fielding, who painted the characters, and ridiculed the follies of life with equal strength, humour and propriety."

Interest in England in Don Quixote in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was not limited to the art of translation. As early as 1611, Philip Massinger's play, The Second Maiden's Tragedy (or Voyage) used one of the interpolated stories in Part I of the novel as the basis of its plot. And around 1620, John Fletcher and Massinger modeled The Double Marriage on the episode of Sancho's governorsip in Part II of the novel. Throughout the century, interest in Don Quixote primarily concentrated on its use as a source for theatrical plots . The "Curioso impertinente" tale in Part I was the principal source for Aphra Behn's The Amourous Prince (also called The Curious Husband) of 1671, for Sotherne's The Disappointment (1684), and John Crown's The Married Beau; Or, The Curious Husband (1694). Cervantes' Exemplary Tales also became a popular source for authors from 1640, the date of Mabbe's translation of six of the twelve stories.

If Don Quixote was worthy of serving as a source for the creative talents of others, it was not taken as a serious work in its own right. Richard Braithwaite in The Schollers Medley (1614) reflected the common attitude during this period when he refused to recommend the novel to young readers: "And last of all (which in my judgment is worst of all) others which the phantasticke writings of some supposed knights (Don Quixotte transformed into a knight with the Golden Pestle) with many other fruitless inventions moulded only for delight without profit. These histories I altogether exclude my economy or private family."

There was perhaps at least one exception to the commonly-held view of Don Quixote as pure farce during this period. Samuel Butler seemed to perceive the novel as a satiric paradigm as early as 1663 in his poem Hudibras whose title character was described as "the Don Quixot of this nation." For Butler, Don Quixote was a wicked madman as well as a hero-satirist whose quest represented the futility of transforming reality (windmills) into fiction (giants). On his quest Butler's character Hudibras was not interested in restoring a glorious past but rather in revealing the base motivation of Presbyterianism as a true religion. Butler's indebtedess to Cervantes may be evident in his portrayal of the two central characters and the unstructured pattern of their wanderings together.

Also indebted to Don Quixote was Edward Ward's The Life and Notable Adventures of that renowned Knight Don Quixote de la Mancha, which was "Merrily translated into Hudibrastic Verse." Ward makes the connection between Butler and Cervantes explicit. His dedication refers to the novel's popularity and its elevated status at the turn of the century:

The quality and quantity of the translations of Don Quixote in eighteenth-century England had an undeniable impact on the increasing sophistication of prose fiction. Cervantes' work was no longer viewed as simple farce or comedy, but as a model of serious satire to be imitated. If the purpose of satire is to correct and reform , the figure of Don Quixote was particularly appropriate: He sought to correct the delusions of a social order based on a nostalgic conception of the past, and at the same time his obsession to right every social wrong turned him into a victim of his own reformist enterprise. He was a kind of Everyman, according to Motteaux, and not merely some foreign lunatic: "Every man has something of Don Quixote in his Humour, some darling Dulcinea of his Thoughts, that sets him very often upon mad Adventures. What Quixotes does not every Age produce in Politics and Religion, who fancying themselves to be in the right of something, which all the world tells 'em is wrong...?" Motteaux's remarks could easily describe the figure of Parson Adams in Henry Fielding's The History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews And of his Friend Mr. Abraham Adams. Written in Imitation of The Manner of Cervantes, Author of Don Quixote. Parson Adams, like Don Quixote, is intent in reforming the world, but he seeks to do so not because of his misreading of chivalric romances, but because of his obsession with Apostolic charity.

Fielding's interest in Cervantes, however, dated at least to 1727, when he was composing his play Don Quixote in England. Although not performed until 1734, this farce/comedy reflects Fielding's early interest in the novel and its potential to relate the knight's madness to the madness of society in general. The play ends with an apostrophe to the audience: "Since your madness is so plain / Each spectator / Of good nature / With applause will entertain / His brother of La Mancha."

Fielding was only one among many authors who read and profited from the presence of Don Quixote in England. References to the novel appear in the works of, among others, Richard Steele, Joseph Addison, Jonathan Swift and Laurence Sterne. Mrs. Charlotte Lennox's central character, Arabella, in The Female Quixote (1752) is deceived by her reading of fiction, although the novel as a whole seems more indebted to Fielding's own work. The impact of fiction-reading on one's life was not limited to fictional representation. Dr. Thomas Percy --the same Dr. Percy to whom Reverend Bowle addressed his letters on Don Quixote--wrote to James Boswell as the latter was preparing The Life of Samuel Johnson (1811), to inform him that when Johnson was a boy, "he was immoderately fond of reading romances of chivalry, and he retained his fondness for them through life.... Yet I have heard him attribute to these extravagant fictions that unsettled turn of mind which prevented him ever fixing in any profession." Whether or not Dr. Johnson's self-diagnosis pointed to Don Quixote's peculiar illness as his own is pure speculation. It is noteworthy, however, that Dr. Johnson commented on the identification between Don Quixote and his readers: "When we pity him, we reflect on our own disappointments; and when we laugh, our hearts inform us that he is not more ridiculous than ourselves, except that he tells what we have only thought." The separation between fiction and reality was not as wide as we sometimes prefer to believe. By the end of the eighteenth century, Cervantes had managed to acquire those readers who understood his novel, who understood that what we perceive as reality is fiction and vice-versa. Don Quixote's ridiculous adventures produced the laughter that Cervantes had intended; they also elicited that more profoundly critical vision of the world and of human nature which defines the modern novel.