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Don Quixote
(El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha)
By Miguel De Cervantes
The original, squashed down to read in about 30 minutes

Portrait of Cervantes and 1955 sketch by Pablo Picasso
(Madrid, 1604)

This is often considered to be the first modern novel, and the founding text of Spanish writing. In a poll of 2002 organised by the Nobel Institute, 100 leading authors including John le Carre, Doris Lessing, Seamus Heaney and Salman Rushdie selected Don Quixote as the best work of fiction ever.

Based on the translation by John Ormsby. Abridged: GH

This edition is available in print...

Don Quixote

I. Which treats of The Knight of La Mancha

In a certain village of La Mancha, which name I do not want to remember, there lived one of those old-fashioned gentlemen who keep a lance in the rack, an ancient target, a lean horse, and a greyhound for coursing. He had an olla of rather more beef than mutton, a salad on most nights, scraps on Saturdays, lentils on Fridays, and a pigeon or so extra on Sundays. His family consisted of a housekeeper turned forty, a niece not twenty, and a man who could saddle a horse, handle the pruning-hook, and also serve in the house. The master himself was nigh fifty years of age, lean-bodied and thin-faced, an early riser, and a great lover of hunting. His surname was Quixada, or Quesada.

You must know now that when our gentleman had nothing to do- which was almost all the year round- he read books on knight-errantry, and with such delight that he almost left off his sports, and even sold acres of land to buy these books. He would dispute with the curate of the parish, and with the barber, as to the best knight in the world. At nights he read these romances until it was day; a-day he would read until it was night. Thus, by reading much and sleeping little, he lost the use of his reason. His brain was full of nothing but enchantments, quarrels, battles, challenges, wounds, amorous plaints, torments, and abundance of impossible follies.

And, having lost his wits, he stumbled on the oddest fancy that ever entered madman's brain - to turn knight-errant himself, mount his steed, and ride through the world, redressing grievances, and exposing himself to every danger, that he might purchase everlasting honour and renown.

The first thing he did was to secure a suit of armour that had belonged to his great-grandfather. But he perceived one great defect in it, that it had no helmet. This deficiency his ingenuity supplied, by making one of pasteboard, which his sword demolished at the first stroke. After repairing this mischief, he went to visit his horse, whose bones stuck out, but who appeared to his master a finer beast than Alexander's Bucephalus. After four days of thought, he decided to call his horse Rozinante, and when the title was decided upon, he spent eight days more before he arrived at Don Quixote as a name for himself.

Now, he knew that a knight-errant needed a lady on whom he might bestow the empire of his heart. As he said to himself, "If, by my good fortune, I come across some giant, a common occurrence with knights-errant, and vanquish him, will it not be well to have some one I may send him to as a present, that he may fall on his knees before my sweet lady, and say, 'I am the giant Caraculiambro, lord of the island of Malindrania, vanquished in single combat by the never sufficiently extolled knight Don Quixote of La Mancha."

There lived close at hand a hard-working country lass, Aldonza Lorenzo, on whom sometimes he had cast an eye, but who was quite unmindful of the gentleman. Her he selected for his peerless lady, and dubbed her with the sweet-sounding name of Dulcinea del Toboso.

II. Which treats of an Adventure in a Courtyard

One morning, in the hottest part of July, with great secrecy, he armed himself, mounted Rozinante, and rode out of his backyard into the open fields. He was disturbed to think that the honour of knighthood had not yet been conferred upon him, but determined to rectify this matter at an early opportunity, and rode on soliloquising, after the manner of knight-errants, as happy as a man might be.

Towards evening he arrived at a common inn, before whose door sat two wenches, the companions of some carriers bound for Seville. Don Quixote instantly fancied the inn to be a castle, and the wenches to be fair ladies taking the air. He expected that some dwarf would show himself upon the battlements, and by sound of trumpet give notice that a knight was approaching the castle. But seeing that they were slow about it, he made for the inn door.

Raising his pasteboard visor, he addressed the wenches, "You high-born maidens need fear no rudeness, for that belongs not to the order of knighthood which I profess." The girls laughed to be called 'maidens', which was unusual in their line of work. Don Quixote rebuked them, whereat they laughed the more, and only the innkeeper's appearance prevented the knight's indignation from carrying him to extremities. This man was for peace, and welcomed the strange apparition to his inn with all civility, marvelling much to find himself addressed as Sir Castellan. So the knight sat down to supper with strange company, and discoursed of chivalry to the bewilderment of all present, treating the inn as a castle, the host as a noble gentleman, and the wenches as great ladies.

He presently sought the innkeeper alone in the stable, and, kneeling, requested to be dubbed a knight, vowing that he would not move from that place till 'twas done. The host guessed the distraction of his visitor and complied, counselling Don Quixote- who had never read of such things in books of chivalry- to provide himself henceforth with money and clean shirts, and no longer to ride penniless. That night Don Quixote watched his arms by moonlight, laying them upon the horse-trough in the yard of the inn, while from a distance the innkeeper and his guests watched the gaunt man, now leaning on his lance, and now walking to and fro, with his target on his arm.

It chanced that a carrier came to water his mules, and was about to remove the armour, when Don Quixote in a loud voice called him to desist. The man took no notice, and Don Quixote, calling upon his Dulcinea to assist him, lifted his lance and brought it down on the carrier's pate, laying him flat. A second carrier came, and was treated in like manner; but now all the company of them came, and with showers of stones made a terrible assault upon the knight. It was only the interference of the innkeeper that put an end to this battle, and by careful words he was able to appease Don Quixote's wrath and get him out of the inn.

On his way the now happy knight found a farmer beating a boy, and bidding him desist, inquired the reason of this chastisement. The man, afraid of the strange armoured figure, told how this boy did his work badly in the field, and deserved his flogging; but the boy declared that the farmer owed him wages, and that whenever he asked for them his master flogged him. Sternly did the Don command the man to pay the lad's wages, and when the fellow promised to do so directly he got home, and the boy protested that he would surely never keep that promise, Don Quixote threatened the farmer, saying, "I am the valorous Don Quixote of La Mancha, righter of wrongs, revenger and redresser of grievances; remember what you have promised and sworn, as you will answer the contrary at your peril." Convinced that the man dare not disobey, he rode forward, and the farmer very soon continued his flogging of the boy.

A company of merchants approaching caused Don Quixote to halt in the middle of the road, calling upon them to stand until they acknowledged Dulcinea del Toboso to be the peerless beauty of the world. This challenge was met with prevarication, which enraged Don Quixote, and clapping spurs to Rozinante he bore down upon the company with his lance couched.

A stumble of the horse threw him, and as he lay on the ground, unable to move, one of the servants of the company came up and broke the lance across Don Quixote's ribs. It was not until a countryman came by that the Don was extricated, and then he had to ride back to his own village on the ass of the poor labourer, being so stiff and sore as quite incapable to mount Rozinante.

The curate and the barber, seeing now what havoc romances of chivalry were making in the wits of this good gentleman, ran through his library while he lay wounded in bed, burned all his noxious works, and, securely locking the door, prepared the tale that enchantment had carried away the books and the very chamber itself.

None of the entreaties of his niece, nor the remonstrances of his housekeeper, could stay Don Quixote at home, and he soon prepared for a second sally. He persuaded a good, honest country labourer, Sancho Panza by name, to enter his service as squire, promising him for reward the first island or empire which his lance should happen to conquer. Thus did things happen in books of chivalry, and he did not doubt that thus it would happen with him.

III. Which treats of The Immortal Partnership

So it came to pass that one night Don Quixote stole away from his home, and Sancho Panza from his wife and children, and with the master on Rozinante, the servant on his ass, Dapple, hastened away under cover of darkness in search of adventures. As they travelled, "I beseech your worship," quoth Sancho, "be sure you forget not your promise of the island; for, I dare swear, I shall make shift to govern it, let it be never so big." The knight, in a rhapsody, foreshadowed the day when Sancho might be made even a king, for in romances of chivalry there is no limit to the gifts made by valorous knights to their faithful squires. But Sancho shook his head. "Though it rain kingdoms on the face of the earth, not one of them would fit well upon the head of my wife; for, I must needs tell you, she is not worth two brass-jacks to make a queen of."

As they were thus discoursing they espied some thirty windmills in the plain, which Don Quixote instantly took for giants. Nothing that Sancho said could dissuade him, and he must needs clap spurs to his horse and ride a-tilt at these great windmills, recommending himself to his lady Dulcinea. As he ran his lance into the sail of the first mill, the wind whirled about with such swiftness that the motion broke the lance into shivers, and hurled away both knight and horse along with it. When Sancho came upon his master the Don explained that some cursed necromancer had converted those giants into windmills to deprive him of the honour of victory.

When the knight was recovered they continued their way, and their next adventure was to meet two monks on mules riding before a coach, with four or five men on horseback, wherein sat a lady going to Seville to meet her husband. Don Quixote rode forward, addressed the monks as "cursed implements of hell," and bade them instantly release the lovely princess in the coach. The monks flew for their lives as Don Quixote charged down upon them, but Sancho was thrown down by the servants, who tore his beard, trampled his stomach, beat and mauled him in every part of his body, and then left him sprawling without breath or motion.

As for Don Quixote, he came off victor in this conflict, and only desisted from slaying his assailant on the plea of the lady in the coach, and on her promise that the conquered man should present himself before the peerless Dulcinea del Toboso. The recovered Sancho was surprised to find that his master had no island to bestow upon him after this incredible victory, wherein he himself had suffered so disastrously.

In a fierce encounter with some Yanguesian carriers, Don Quixote was wounded almost to death, and he explained to Sancho that his defeat he owed to fighting with common people, bidding Sancho in future to fight himself against such common fellows.

"Sir," said Sancho, "I am a peaceful man, a quiet fellow, do you see; I can make shift to forgive injuries as well as any man, as having a wife to maintain, and children to bring up. I freely forgive all mankind, high and low, lords and beggars, whatsoever wrongs they ever did or may do me, without the least exception."

At the next inn they came upon Don Quixote, who was lying prone on Sancho's ass, groaning in pain, vowed that here was a worthy castle. Sancho swore 'twas an inn. Their dispute lasted till they reached the door, where Sancho marched straight in, without troubling himself any further in the matter. It was here that surprising adventures took place. The knight, Sancho, and a carrier were obliged to share one chamber. The maid of the inn, entering this apartment, was mistaken by Don Quixote for the princess of the castle, and taking her in his arms, he poured out a rhapsody to the virtues of Dulcinea del Toboso. The carrier resented this, and in a moment the place was in an uproar. Such a fight never took place before, and when it was over both the knight and the squire were as near dead as men can be. To right himself, Don Quixote concocted a balsam of which he had read, and drinking it off, presently was so grievously ill that he was like to cast up his heart and liver.

Being got to bed again, he felt sure that he was now invulnerable, and he woke early next day, eager to sally forth. When the host asked for his reckoning, "How! Is this an inn?" quoth the Don. "Yes, and one of the best on the road." "How strangely have I been mistaken then! Upon my honour, I took it for a castle, and a considerable one, too." Saying which, he added that knights never yet paid for the honour they conferred in lying at any man's house, and so rode away. But poor Sancho Panza did not get off scot free, for they tossed him in a blanket in the backyard, where the Don could see the torture over the wall, but could by no means get to the rescue of his squire.

When they were together again, the gallant Don comforted poor Sancho Panza with hopes of an island, and explained away all their sufferings on the grounds of necromancy. All that had gone awry with them was the work of some cursed enchanters.

Their next adventure was begun by a cloud of dust on the horizon, which instantly made Don Quixote exclaim that a great battle was in progress. A nearer view revealed that the dust rose from a huge flock of sheep; but the knight's blood was up, and he rode forward as fast as poor Rozinante could carry him, and did frightful slaughter among the sheep, till the stones of the shepherd brought him to the earth. "Lord save us!" cried Sancho, as he assisted the Don to his feet. "Your worship has left on his lower side only two grinders, and on the upper not one."

Later, they came upon a company of priests, with lighted tapers, carrying a corpse through the night. Don Quixote charged them, brought one of the company to the ground, and scattered the rest. Sancho Panza, whose stomach cried cupboard, filled his wallet with the rich provisions of the priests, boasting to the wounded man that his master was the redoubtable Don Quixote of La Mancha, otherwise called the Knight of the Sorrowful Countenance. When the adventure was over, Don Quixote questioned his squire on this name, and Sancho replied, "I have been staring upon you this pretty while by the light of that unlucky priest's torch, and may I never stir if ever I set eyes on a more dismal countenance in my born days."

The next enterprise was with a barber, who carried his new brass basin on his head, so that it suggested to Don Quixote the famous helmet of Mambrino. Accordingly, he bore down upon the barber, put him to flight, and possessed himself of the basin, which he wore as a helmet. More serious was the following adventure, when Don Quixote released from the king's officers a gang of galley slaves, because they assured him that they travelled chained much against their will. So gallantly did the knight behave, that he conquered the officers and left them all but dead. Nevertheless, coming to an argument with the released convicts, whom he would have sent to his lady Dulcinea, he himself, and Sancho, too, were as mauled by the convicts as even those self-same officers.

It now came to Don Quixote that he must perform a penance in the mountains, and sending Sancho with a letter to Dulcinea, he divested himself of much of his armour and underwear, and performed the maddest gambols and self-tortures ever witnessed under a blue sky.

However, it chanced that Sancho Panza soon fell in with the curate and the barber of Don Quixote's village, and these good friends, by a cunning subterfuge, in which a beautiful young lady played a part, got Don Quixote safely home and into his own bed. The lady, affecting great distress, had made Don Quixote vow to enter upon no adventure until he had righted a wrong done against herself; and one night, as they journeyed on this mission, a great cage was made and placed over Don Quixote as he slept, and thus, persuaded that necromancy was at work against, him, the valiant knight was borne back a prisoner to his home.

IV. Which treats of Sancho and His Island

Nothing short of a prison cell could keep Don Quixote from his sallies, and soon he was on the road again, accompanied by his faithful squire. To Sancho, who believed his master mad, and whose chief aim in life was filling his own stomach, these adventures of the Don had but one end, the governorship of the promised island. While he thought the knight mad, he believed in him; and while he was selfish, he loved his master, as the tale tells.

It chanced that one day they came upon a frolicsome duke and duchess who had heard of their adventures, and who instantly set themselves to enjoy so rare a sport as that offered by the entertainment of the knight and his squire. The Don was invited to the duke's castle as a mighty hero, and there treated with all possible honour; but some tricks were played upon him which were certainly unworthy of the duke's courtesy. Nevertheless, this visit had the happiest culmination, since it was from the hands of the duke that Sancho at last received his governorship. Making pretence that a certain town on his estate, named Barataria, was an island, the duke dispatched Sancho to govern it; and after an affecting farewell with his master, who gave him the wisest possible advice on the subject of statecraft, Sancho set out in a glittering cavalcade to take up his governorship, with his beloved Dapple led behind.

After a magnificent entry into the city, Sancho Panza was called upon to give judgement in certain teasing disputes, and this he did with such wit and such wholesome common-sense that he delighted all who heard him. Well-pleased with himself, he sat down in a grand hall to a solitary banquet, with a physician standing by his side. No sooner had Sancho tasted a dish than the physician touched it with a wand, and a page bore it swiftly away. At first Sancho was confounded by this interference with his appetite, but presently he grew bold and expostulated; whereupon the physician said that his mission was to overlook the governor's health, and to see that he ate nothing which was prejudicial to his physical well-being, since the happiness of the state depended upon the health of its governor. Sancho bore it for some time, but at length, starting up, he bade the physician avaunt, saying, "By the sun's light, I'll get me a good cudgel, and beginning with your carcase, will so belabour all the physic-mongers in the island, that I will not leave one of the tribe. Let me eat, or let them take their government again; for an office that will not afford a man his victuals is not worth two horse beans."

At that moment there came a messenger from the duke, sweating, and with concern in his looks, who pulled a packet from his bosom and presented it to the governor. This message from the duke was to warn Sancho that a furious enemy intended to attack his island, and that he must be on his guard. "I have also the intelligence," wrote the duke, "from faithful spies, that there are four men got into the town in disguise to murder you, your abilities being regarded as a great obstacle to the enemy's design. Take heed how you admit strangers to speak with you, and eat nothing that is laid before you."

Sancho set out to inspect his defences; but with every step he took he was confronted by some problem of government on which he was called upon to adjudicate. Harassed by these appeals, and half famished, our governor began to think that governorship was the sorriest trade on earth, and before a week was over he addressed to Don Quixote a letter, concluding, "Heaven preserve you from ill-minded enchanters, and send me safe and sound out of this government." One night he was awakened by the clanging of a great bell, and in came servants crying in affright that the enemy was approaching. Sancho rose, and was adjured by his subjects to lead them forth against their terrible foes. He asked for food, and declared that he knew nothing of arms. They rebuked him, and bringing him shields and a lance, proceeded to tie him up so tightly with shields behind and shields before that he could scarcely move. Then they bade him march, and lead on the army. "March!" quoth he. "These bonds stick so plaguey close that I cannot so much as bend my knees!" "For shame!" they answered. "It is fear and not armour that stiffens your legs." Thus rebuked, Sancho endeavoured to move, but fell flat on the earth like a great tortoise; while in the darkness the others made a clash with their swords and shields, and trampled upon the prone governor, who quite gave himself up for dead. But at break of day they raised a cry of "Victory!" and, lifting Sancho up, told him that their enemies were driven off.

To this he said nothing save to ask for his old clothes. And when he was dressed he went down to Dapple's stall, and embraced his faithful ass with tears in his eyes. "Come hither, my friend and true companion," quoth he; "happy were my days, my months, and years, when with thee I journeyed, and all my concern was to mend thy harness and find food for thy little stomach! But now that I have climbed to the towers of ambition, a thousand woes, a thousand torments, and four thousand tribulations have haunted my soul!" While he spoke he fitted on the pack-saddle, mounted his ass, bade farewell to the people, and departed in peace and great humility.

V. Which treats of The End of Don Quixote

Meanwhile, Don Quixote had been fooled to the top of his bent in the duke's castle, and had endured tribulations from maids and men sufficient to deject the finest fortitude. He was now in the mood to forsake that great castle, and to embrace once more the life of the open road, and so with Sancho Panza he started out to take up the threads of his old life. After adventures so miraculous as to seem incredible, Don Quixote was laid low in an encounter with a friend of his disguised as a knight, and by this defeat was so broken and humiliated that he thought to turn shepherd and to spend the remainder of his days in a pastoral life. Sancho cheered him, and kept his heart as high as it would reach in his misery, and together they turned their faces towards home, leaving the future to the disposition of Providence.

As they entered the village, two boys fighting in a field attracted the knight's attention, and he heard one of them cry, "Never fret yourself, you shall never see her while you have breath in your body!" The knight immediately applied these words to himself and Dulcinea, and nothing that Sancho could say had power to cheer his spirits. Moreover, the boys of the village, having seen them, raised a shout, and came laughing about them, saying, "Oh, law! here is Gaffer Sancho Panza's donkey as fine as a lady, and Don Quixote's beast thinner than ever!" The barber and the curate then came upon the scene and saw their old friend, and went with him to his house.

Here Don Quixote faithfully described his discomfiture in the encounter with another knight, and declared his intention honourably to observe the conditions laid upon him of being confined to his village for a year.

Melancholy increased with the poor knight, and he was seized with a violent fever. The physician and his friends conjectured that his sickness arose from regret for his defeat and disappointment of Dulcinea's disenchantment; they did all they could do to divert him, but in vain. One day he desired them to leave him, and for six hours he slept so profoundly that his niece thought he was dead. At the end of this time he wakened, and cried with a loud voice, "Blessed be Almighty God for this great benefit He has vouchsafed to me! His mercies are infinite; greater are they than the sins of men."

These rational words surprised his niece, and she asked what he meant by them. He answered that by God's mercy his judgment had returned, free and clear. "The cloud of ignorance," said he, "is now removed, which continuous reading of those noxious books of knight-errantry had laid upon me." He said that his great grief now was the lateness with which enlightenment had come, leaving him so little time to prepare his soul for death.

The others coming in, Don Quixote made his confession, and one went to fetch Sancho Panza. With tears in his eyes the squire sought his poor master's side, and when in the first clause of his will Don Quixote made mention of Sancho, saying afterwards, "Pardon me, my friend, that I brought upon you the shame of my madness," Sancho cried out, "Woe's me, your worship, do not die this bout; take my counsel, and live many a good year. For it is the maddest trick a man can play in his whole life to go out like the snuff of a candle, and die merely of the mulligrubs!"

The others admonished him in like spirit, but Don Quixote answered and said, "Gently, sirs! do not look in last year's nests for the birds of this year. I was mad, but now I have my reason. I was Don Quixote of La Mancha; but to-day I am Alonso Quixano the Good. I hope that my repentance and my sincerity will restore me to the esteem that once you had for me. And now let Master Notary proceed." So he finished writing his will, and then fell into a swooning fit, and lay full length in his bed. But he lingered some days, and when he did give up the ghost, or to speak more plainly, when he died, it was amidst the tears and lamentations of his family, and after he had received the last sacrament, and had expressed, in pathetic way, his horror at the books of chivalry.

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