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Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616). Don Quixote, Part 1.
The Harvard Classics. 1909–14.

The Fourth Book

XI. Treating of the Curious Discourse Made by Don Quixote upon the Exercises of Arms and Letters

DON QUIXOTE, continuing his discourse, said, ‘Seeing we begin in the student with poverty and her parts, let us examine whether the soldier be richer? Certainly we shall find that no man can exceed the soldier in poverty itself; for he is tied to his wretched pay, which comes either late or never; or else to his own shifts, with notable danger of his life and conscience. And his nakedness is ofttimes so much, as many times a leather jerkin gashed serves him at once for a shirt and ornament. And in the midst of winter he hath sundry times no other defence or help to resist the inclemencies of the air in the midst of the open fields than the breath of his mouth, which I verily believe doth against nature come out cold, by reason it sallies from an empty place; expect there till the night fall, that he may repair all these discommodities by the easiness of his bed, the which, if it be not through his own default, shall never offend in narrowness; for he may measure out for it on the earth as many foot as he pleaseth, and tumble himself up and down it without endangering the wrinkling of his sheets. Let after all this the day and hour arrive wherein he is to receive the degree of his profession—let, I say, a day of battle arrive; for there they will set on his head the cap of his dignity, made of lint to cure the wound of some bullet that hath passed through and through his temples, or hath maimed an arm or a leg. And when this doth not befall, but that Heaven doth piously keep and preserve him whole and sound, he shall perhaps abide still in the same poverty wherein he was at the first; and that it be requisite that one and another battle do succeed, and he come off ever a victor, to the end that he may prosper and be at the last advanced. But such miracles are but few times wrought; and say, good sirs, if you have noted it, how few are those which the wars reward, in respect of the others that it hath destroyed? You must answer, without question, that there can be no comparison made between them, nor can the dead be reduced to any number; but all the living, and such as are advanced, may be counted easily with three arithmetical figures: all which falls out contrary in learned men, for all of them have wherewithal to entertain and maintain themselves by skirts—I will say nothing of sleeves. So that although the soldier’s labour is greater, yet is his reward much less. But to this may be answered, that it is easier to reward two hundred thousand learned men than thirty thousand soldiers; for they may be advanced by giving unto them offices, which must of necessity be bestowed on men of their profession; but soldiers cannot be recompensed otherwise than by the lord’s substance and wealth whom they serve. And yet this objection and impossibility doth fortify much more my assertion.

‘But leaving this apart, which is a labyrinth of very difficult issue, let us return to the pre-eminency of arms over learning, which is a matter hitherto depending, so many are the reasons that everyone allegeth for himself; and among those which I myself have repeated, then learning doth argue thus for itself, that arms without it cannot be long maintained, forasmuch as the war hath also laws, and is subject to them, and that the laws are contained under the title of learning, and belong to learned men.

‘To this objection arms do make answer: that the laws cannot be sustained without them, for commonwealths are defended by arms, and kingdoms preserved, cities fenced, highways made safe, the seas freed from pirates; and, to be brief, if it were not for them, commonwealths, kingdoms, monarchies, cities, and ways by sea and land, would be subject to the rigour and confusion which attendeth on the war all the time that it endureth, and is licensed to practice his prerogatives and violence; and it is a known truth, that it which cost most, is or ought to be most accounted of. That one may become eminent in learning, it costs him time, watchings, hunger, nakedness, headaches, rawness of stomach, and other such inconveniences as I have partly mentioned already; but that one may arrive by true terms to be a good soldier, it costs him all that it costs the student, in so exceeding a degree as admits no comparison, for he is at every step in jeopardy to lose his life. And what fear of necessity or poverty may befall or molest a student so fiercely as it doth a soldier, who, seeing himself at the siege of some impregnable place, and standing sentinel in some ravelin or half-moon, feels the enemies undermining near to the place where he is, and yet dares not to depart or abandon his stand, upon any occasion whatsoever, or shun the danger which so nearly threatens him? but that which he only may do, is to advise his captain of that which passeth, to the end he may remedy it by some countermine, whilst he must stand still, fearing and expecting when he shall suddenly fly up to the clouds without wings, and after descend to the depths against his will. And if this appear to be but a small danger, let us weigh whether the grappling of two galleys, the one with the other in the midst of the spacious main, may be compared, or do surpass it, the which nailed and grappled fast the one to the other, the soldier hath no more room in them than two foot broad of a plank in the battlings, and notwithstanding, although he clearly see laid before him so many ministers of death, for all the pieces of artillery that are planted on the adverse side do threaten him, and are not distant from his body the length of a lance; and seeing that if he slipped ever so little aside, he should fall into the deeps, doth yet nevertheless, with undaunted heart, borne away on the wings of honour, which spurreth him onward, oppose himself as a mark to all their shot, and strives to pass by that so narrow a way into thenemy’s vessel. And what is most to be admired is to behold how scarce is one fallen into that place, from whence he shall never after arise until the world’s end, when another takes possession of the same place; and if he do likewise tumble into the sea, which gapes like an enemy for him also, another and another will succeed unto him, without giving any respite to the times of their death, valour, and boldness, which is the greatest that may be found among all the trances of warfare. Those blessed ages were fortunate which wanted the dreadful fury of the devilish and murdering pieces of ordinance, to whose inventor I am verily persuaded that they render in hell an eternal guerdon for his diabolical invention, by which he hath given power to an infamous, base, vile, and dastardly arm to bereave the most valorous knight of life; and that, without knowing how or from whence, in the midst of the stomach and courage that inflames and animates valorous minds, there arrives a wandering bullet (shot off, perhaps, by him that was afraid, and fled at the very blaze of the powder, as he discharged the accursed engine), and cuts off and finisheth in a moment the thoughts and life of him who merited to enjoy it many ages.

‘And whilst I consider this, I am about to say that it grieves me to have ever undertaken the exercise of a knight-errant in this our detestable age; for although no danger can affright me, yet notwithstanding I live in jealousy to think how powder and lead might deprive me of the power to make myself famous and renowned by the strength of mine arm and the edge of my sword throughout the face of the earth. But let Heaven dispose as it pleaseth; for so much the more shall I be esteemed, if I can compass my pretensions, by how much the dangers were greater to which I opposed myself, than those achieved in foregoing times by knights-adventurous.’

Don Quixote made all this prolix speech whilst the rest of his company did eat, wholly forgetting to taste one bit, although Sancho Panza did now and then put him in remembrance of his victuals, saying that he should have leisure enough after to speak as much as he could desire. In those that heard was again renewed a kind of compassion, to see a man of so good a wit as he seemed to be, and of so good discourse in all the other matters which he took in hand, to remain so clearly devoid of it when any occasion of speech were offered treating of his accursed chivalry. The curate applauded his discourse, affirming that he produced very good reasons for all that he had spoken in the favour of arms; and that he himself (although he was learned and graduated) was likewise of his opinion.

The beaver being ended, and the table-cloths taken away, whilst Maritornes did help her mistress and her daughter to make ready the room where Don Quixote had slept for the gentlewomen, wherein they alone might retire themselves that night, Don Fernando entreated the Captive to recount unto them the history of his life, forasmuch as he suspected that it must have been rare and delightful, as he gathered by the tokens he gave by coming in the lovely Zoraida’s company. To which the Captive replied, that he would accomplish his desire with a very good will, and that only he feared that the discourse would not prove so savoury as they expected; but yet for all that he would tell it, because he would not disobey him. The curate and all the rest thanked him for his promise, and turned to request him again to begin his discourse; and he perceiving so many to solicit him, said that prayers were not requisite when commandments were of such force. ‘And therefore I desire you,’ quoth he, ‘to be attentive, and you shall hear a true discourse, to which perhaps no feigned invention may be compared for variety or delight.’ The rest, animated by these his words, did accommodate themselves with very great silence; and he, beholding their silence and expectation of his history, with a modest and pleasing voice, began in this manner.