By L. Biddulph
from Baconiana 1955
Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra was born at Alcala de Henares in
1547, possibly on 29th September, St. Michael's Day, and baptized on
9th October following. His father practiced as an apothecary earning
a meagre living. There is no record of his attendance at the
University of his native town, founded by Cardinal Ximenes, though he
is said to have studied at that of Salamanca. He is also said to have
exhibited a taste for poesy and dramatic composition at an early
His first appearance in print was in 1569, when he published a small volume of 6 pieces of very little merit. In 1570 we find him in the househould of Cardinal Aquaviva who had been on a visit to Madrid the preceding year. In 1571 he enlisted as a volunteer in Don John's expedition against the Turks and took part in the naval engagement at Lepanto where he received a wound disabling his left hand and other severe injuries. He subsequently served in other expeditions including that to the Levant, and in 1575 set out to return to Spain furnished with letters of commendation from his commanders to King Phillip II. These letters however proved to be his undoing, for the ship El Sol, which was conveying him and other wounded soldiers to Spain, was captured by Algerine pirates on 26th September 1575, who, finding the letters on Cervantes judged him to be a person of wealth and influence whose friends could pay a heavy ransom.
Cervantes remained a captive 5 years in Algiers, and was finally liberated on payment of a ransom of 500 gold ducats raised by the complete impoverishment of his widowed mother and sisters, aided by the generous assistance of some monks who devoted themselves to the task of liberating Christian captives. After his release Cervantes again joined the army and served in Portugal under the Duke of Alva's command and also in an expedition to the Azores. In 1584 he published a pastoral poem called "Galatea," and married a lady of small means but much respectability; Dona Catalina de Palacios y Salazar. From this time he is said have devoted himself in order to earn a living to play writing. Of some 30 pieces he is supposed to have written only two survive. "Los tratos de Argel" (Manners of Algiers) and "Numancia." The first of these is described as a badly constructed and for the most part indifferently written play in 5 acts; an example of the wretched dramatic art in Spain before its regeneration by Lope de Vega. Its only interest lies in the picture it presents of the horrors of the life of a Christian captive in Algiers. The other play, "Numancia" is a description of the siege of Numantia by the Romans stuffed with horrors and described as utterly devoid of the requisites of dramatic art. He lived in Madrid till 1588, when having failed to earn a living by literary composition, he returned to Seville where he remained for 10 years.
From 1598 until 1602 when he settled in Valladolid, nothing is known of him, though it is assumed that he continued to act as tax collector. In any case he appears to have had the greatest difficulty in securing a meagre livelihood and on one if not two occasions he suffered imprisonment by reason of his inability to give a satisfactory account of monies entrusted to his care.
In 1604 the first part of Don Quixote was licensed at Madrid and printed there in the following year. In 1605 we find Cervantes also in Madrid; he remained there until 1616, the year of his death. During this latter period he is definitely known to have been employed by the Revenue Authorities.
He is reputed to have died on the 23rd of April, the same day and year as William Shaksper of Stratford. It is a remarkable coincidence that these two twin Suns should as it were, have made their bows of Adieux to the literary world simultaneosly.
The works of Cervantes are given as follows : &emdash;
a) Galatea 1st part 1583.
b) Espaniola Inglesa 1611
c) Novelas Exemplares 1613
d)Viaje de Parnaso 1614
e)7 Comedies 1615 of which the present writer knows nothing
f)The second part of Don Quixote was published in the same year.
g)Finally in 1616, the year of his death, he was engaged in writing a prose romance, Persiles y Sigismunda.
Cervantes' claim to be numbered amongst the Immortals rests soley
on Don Quixote. Now in the preface to the Reader prefixed to
this work, Cervantes plainly states that he is the step-father only
of Don Quixote although appearing as the father of it. In
conjunction with this statement it is significant to note that he
attached no value to this work. He considered his best work to be
Galatea, and all his life his aim was to be counted as a great
poet, a claim which was ridiculed by Lope de Vega the day star of the
dramatic literature of the Spanish renaissance and other literary men
of his own age. This judgment has not altered with modern critics
today in Spain.
Further, Cervantes is said to have declared that the Immortal History of Don Quixote was only a trifling composition written for amusement. However that may be, it is certain that he failed to recognise his own genius as stepafather of the Valorous Knight of La Mancha; which is peculiar, as Shakespeare, his great contemporary, was aware, more than any man, his own immortality as a writer and did not hesitate to declare it in the Sonnets.
This attitude of Cervantes invites the attention of the curious reader and we shall now place him some of the unnoticed or disregarded hints to be found in the early editions of Don Quixote both Spanish and English.
The best and corrected Spanish edition was published in Madrid in the year 1608. A facsimile of this edition was printed in Barcelona in 1897 as well as of the second part originally published in Madrid in 1615 and it was to this facsimile that our attention was first directed by Mr. Walter Owen of Buenos Aires, to whom the following discovery was due.
In the centre of the letterpress title of the 1608 Madrid edition there is a device, sometimes described as a printers device. Enclosed in a square is a hooded falcoln perched on a gloved hand issuing from a cloud; beneath the falcoln is a couchant lion. Surrounding these emblems is an oval label carrying the Motto SPERO LVCEM POST TENEBRAS, ostensibly referring to the hooded falcoln, " I hope for Light after the Darkness" (shadows) Within the label and against the word SPERO and forming the lower part of the clouds is to be seen quite clearly the outline of a Hog complete with eye, line of bristles down back and a curly tail; whilst beneath the belly of the hog and between the fore and hind legs is to be seen the face in profile of an elderly and rather ugly man. In the second part published in 1615 the same device is reproduced but the outline of the hog and face have been deleted thus proving that the figures were not accidental.
Students of the Tudor and Jacobean literature are well acquainted with the appearance of the Hog in unexpected places.
Page 1 is also of interest from the symbolic standpoint. The headpiece represents two Pans playing on two seven reeded pipes and crowned with what appears to be feathered head dresses, seated, one at each end of the head piece. There are also other curious symbols including two branches of olive (?) . According to Francis St. Albans' interpretation Pan represents Universal Nature, which is a very appropriate emblem to place at the head of a work depicting the whole range of human nature with its weaknesses, its strength, its virutes and vices, its wisdom and follies, uttered by the lips of a madman and a clown. It strangely calls to mind similar combinations running through the Shakespeare Plays.
There also appear to be numerical sigils based on the system of the Latin Cabala and others connecting the book with the secret literary society of the Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross.
We will now turn to the first English version which appeared in 1612 under the name of T. Shelton as translator, of whom nothing is known and of whom it has been said "that he was one of those inspired Elizabethans who emerged out of nowhere to change foreign tongues into the noblest English and then vanished into the darkness again." It is not known when Shelton was born or when he died nor can he be certainly identified. According to the dedication to the Earl of Walden (afterwards Earl of Suffolk) the translation was made 5 or 6 years previous to the date of publication (1612) in the space of forty days under pressure from a dear friend and was then tossed aside and forgotten, until again being urged by other friends he consented to let it come to light provided they would peruse and amend the errors. Did that mean to unhood the Falcoln? The printer apparently took the liberty of presenting it to the noble lord without the knowledge or sanction of Shelton, who profeses confusion on account of its unworthiness but begs him to lend it a favourable countenance to animate the father of it to produce in time some worthier subject, ect. We do not learn, however, that Shelton ever fulfilled this project as no other works appeared with Shelton's name appended to them.
The second part appeared in 1620 with no name appended as translator and was dedicated to the Marquess of Buckingham, to whom in 1625 Francis St. Alban dedicated his complete volume of Essays. Several other versions of Don Quixote have appeared in English, notably those of Motteux, Jarvis and Smollet, but by common assent the version of Shelton in spite of its slightly archaic style is still considered to be the best on account of its free, natural sprightly and untrammelled style and language, reading more like an original composition than a translation and in many respects varying from the Spanish edition so that one is tempted to ask : which is the original, the Spanish or the English?
We have already noted the statements of Cervantes in the orignal preface(repeated in the English version) that he was not the father but only the stepfather of Don Quixote.
In Book 2 Part 1 we find this idea repeated where the nominal author (Cervantes) informs the reader that the real author is an Arabian Historiographer called Cid Hamet Benengeli, which might perhaps be rendered Lord Hamet son of the Englishman or SirBacon the Englishman. This implication is supported by a passage dealing with the same Arabian (?) author in John Philip's version of 1687, which has many peculiar references in it. John Philips was a nephew of John Milton and brought up in his uncle's house, and was therefore likely to have been a member of the Rosy Cross Literary Society, and to have been acquainted with their secret methods of marking literature brought out under the aegis of the Society and of identifying the true authors thereof.
To turn to our text : the author (Cervantes) describes how he found the manuscript containing the continuation of the history of Don Quixote in the market place of Toledo, bought it and arranged with a Moorish Jew to translate it into Spanish which he accomplished in a month and a half. This is a curious coincidence with the forty days which it took Shelton to translate the Spanish text into English.
At this point stress is laid on the fact that "Dulcinea del Toboso" so many times spoken of in this history , "had the best hand for powdering of pork (salting of Bacon) of any woman in all of La Mancha." Is this a hint that the Spanish text was only a translation and that the true author was masking under the pen name of Cid Hamet Benengeli? He is brought into prominent notice several times in the course of the history. To recapitulate; the Preface to the Reader, the remarkable Frontispiece, and lastly the hints dropped throughout the book all tend to point to a concealed author and even a hint at a greater literary name. In such a matter one cannot be dogmatic, but it seems that there remains much to be discovered with regard to the authorship of this famous Masterpiece.