Don Quixote

Don Quixote  (dōn kē-hō´).—A celebrated Spanish romance by Cervantes. Don Quixote is represented as “a gaunt country gentleman of La Mancha, full of genuine Castilian honor and enthusiasm, gentle and dignified in his character, trusted by his friends, and loved by his dependents,” but “so completely crazed by long reading the most famous books of chivalry that he believes them to be true, and feels himself called on to become the impossible knight-errant they describe, and actually goes forth into the world to defend the oppressed and avenge the injured, like the heroes of his romances.” The fame of Cervantes will always rest upon this incomparable satire.

‘Don Quixote' in England

The announcement that Mr. W. G. Wills had completed his dramatic version of ‘Don Quixote' naturally excited much interest, and no doubt set many minds at play upon the general subject of the history of ‘Don Quixote' in this country. That the renowned romance has appeared in many prose translations, from that of Shelton in 1620 to that of Mr. Ormsby only two or three years ago, is known to most people. It will be remembered that an early English version was prepared by the nephew of Milton; the once-famous Peter Motteux made himself responsible for one ‘by several hands'; that by Jarvis, which dates from the middle of last century, has lately been reproduced by Professor Morley; and then there are those by Smollett, the novelist, and Mr. A. J. Duffield. There is no lack of them, any more than there has been of pictorial illustrations. Shelton's translation, revised by Stevens, was republished with ‘cuts' by Coypel. When Lockhart prefixed his well-known essay to Motteux's version, the work was accompanied by etchings by De Los Rios. Jarvis's rendering exercised successively the skill of Westall, Cruickshank, Johannot, Doré, and Mr. A. B. Houghton; another was illuminated by R. Smirke, R.A.; and in later years there have been the drawings contributed by Sir John Gilbert and by Kenny Meadows.

So much for the story as it has been read in English and adorned by English (and other) artists. But how about Mr. Wills's predecessors? How about ‘Don Quixote's' previous connection with the English stage? Well, it was scarcely to be expected that so popular a tale would never excite the attention of the playwright or the musician. Sooner or later, everything which has vogue finds its way, somehow, to the boards, and it is a little surprising that seventy-four years should have elapsed, after the publication of the first English translation, before ‘Don Quixote' received the distinction of dramatization. Was it, indeed, a distinction? There's the rub. The dramatist was Thomas d'Urfey; and what could be looked for from that free-speaking worthy? The original is not without a certain breadth in certain passages, and what Cervantes made broad D'Urfey might be trusted to make broader. That, again, was only according to the practice of the day; and if the virtuous Collier fulminated against the trilogy which D'Urfey wrought out of the epical extravaganza—if some ladies of the time were found to object to the coarser humours of Mary the Buxom (a creation on which D'Urfey prided himself)—there can be no doubt of the success of the venture. The third of the three plays had not, it seems, quite the acceptability of the other two, but the author's explanation of its virtual failure—that the piece was not adequately presented—was possibly, for once, well founded, and the fact that the third play was produced at all speaks volumes for the triumphs of its precursors.

A ‘Don Quixote'—probably D'Urfey's ‘second part'—held the stage, more or less firmly, till the eighteenth century was well upon its way; and then there suddenly appeared a rival, in the shape of a farce or vaudeville by Fielding, entitled ‘Don Quixote in England,' and bringing both the Don and Sancho upon English soil. The author was well aware of his temerity, and, indeed, apologized for it. The piece, he pleaded, was

‘originally writ for his private amusement, as it would, indeed, have been little less than Quixotism itself to hope any other fruits from attempting characters wherein the inimitable Cervantes so far excelled.'

He found it, he says, infinitely more difficult than he imagined to give his knight an opportunity of displaying himself in a different manner from that wherein he appears in the romance. However, he was induced to allow his work to be performed, and then it was seen that he had brought the Don and Sancho to an English inn, where the landlord, Guzzle, tries in vain to get the former to pay his bill, and whither comes one Dorothea Loveland to meet her sweetheart, Fairlove, spending the interval between her coming and his arrival in persuading the Don that she is a persecuted princess and that her maid Jezebel is Dulcinea. Dorothea is promised by her father to one Squire Badger, but the squire proves to be a sot, and at the Don's especial request the lady and her lover are united. The piece is by no means without humour, and it would deserve to live in remembrance if only because it was for ‘Don Quixote in England' that Fielding wrote the song of ‘The Roast Beef of Old England,' which consisted of two verses only until Richard Leveridge added five more and wrote the music for the whole.

‘Don Quixote' has made other appearances on the English boards, but none of any very great importance. There was an entertainment written in verse, and ‘sung at Marybone Gardens,' for which Dr. Arnold wrote the music, and in which the Don, Sancho, Nicholas, Teresa, and Maritornes figure. There was a pantomime at Covent Garden, ‘Harlequin and Quixote; or, The Magic Arm,' for which Reeve composed the melodies, and in which Harlequin, the son of Inca, carries off Columbine, the daughter of a Spanish grandee, to whom Don Quixote is affianced. There was, too, a ‘ballad-farce' called ‘Don Quixote in Barcelona; or, The Beautiful Moor,' which, however, was never represented; and there were at least two other efforts of the kind, an ‘opera-comedy' and a ‘farce-comedy,' which had the illustrious Sancho for their hero, portraying him in the character of ‘the mock Governor' of Barataria.

It was, no doubt, inevitable that ‘Don Quixote,' having been translated into English prose, should make its appearance also in English verse. And so it did—early in the eighteenth century—in the form of ‘The Lifeand Notable Adventures of that Renown'd Knight, Don Quixote de la Mancha, Merrily translated into Hudibrastick Verse.' Mr. Edward Ward was the perpetrator of this work, in which various episodes of the original were reproduced with a vulgarity, not to say a coarseness, not unworthy of the great D'Urfey himself. The bard was tolerable enough in such passages as this, descriptive of the knight's appearance:

‘The Don himself that rul'd the Roast
(Whose Fame we are about to Boast),
Did by his solid Looks appear
Not much behind his Fiftieth year.
In Stature he was Lean and Tall,
Big Bon'd, and very Strong withall;
Sound Wind and Limb, of healthful Body,
Fresh of Complection, somewhat Ruddy;
Built for a Champion ev'ry way,
But turn'd with Age a little Grey.'

But, as a whole, ‘Don Quixote,' as rendered into rhyme by Mr. Ward, cannot be recommended for general perusal.

There is, however, a ‘Quixote' literature apart from ‘Don Quixote' itself. The great romance suggested more than one English counterpart, such as ‘The Spiritual Quixote,' by Richard Graves, and ‘The Female Quixote,' by Mrs. Lennox. The latter, published in the middle of last century, was devoted to the adventures of one Arabella. Of her we read that, supposing the fictions of the Scudéri school to be ‘real pictures of life,' ‘from them she drew all her notions and expectations.' She became, in fact, quite a monomaniac upon the subject, and, as a sample, is for ever expecting that her lover, Glanville, will speak and act like the heroes of her favourite tales. In the end she throws herself into a river, gets brain-fever, and is brought back to sanity by a benevolent divine. Then there is ‘The Amiable Quixote; or, The Enthusiasm of Friendship,' a novel issued later in the century, and having for central figure a young gentleman named Bruce, who

‘found in the slightest acquaintance some virtue or some recommendation. As soon as the enthusiasm of friendship was excited, it overwhelmed his discretion and clouded his perspicacity.'

But this work owed very little to ‘Don Quixote'—not more than did ‘Tarrataria; or, Don Quixote the Second,' a romantic poetical medley in two cantos, which appeared in the interval between the two stories just noticed. Early in this century there was issued, for a short space, a literary miscellany, called The Knight Errant, edited by ‘Sir Hercules Quixote, K.E.,' who, said the prospectus,

‘following the example of his illustrious namesake and ancestor of La Mancha, has, with the assistance of his friends, commenced an era of Civil Knight Errantry, and zealously devoted himself to the comforting of distressed Damsels and disconsolate Widows, the fathering of wronged and destitute Orphans, the promotion of Virtue and chivalrous feeling generally'—

and so on, and so on. To ‘Don Quixote,' in some form or other, there will, of course, be literary allusions to the end of time.