Home  »  Don Quixote, Part 1  »  XXIII. Of the Discreet Contention between Don Quixote and the Canon, with Other Accidents

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

The Fourth Book

XXIII. Of the Discreet Contention between Don Quixote and the Canon, with Other Accidents

‘THAT were a jest indeed,’ quoth Don Quixote, ‘that books which are printed with the king’s licence and approbation of those to whom their examination was committed, and that are read with universal delight and acceptance, and celebrated by great and little, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, plebeians and gentlemen, and finally, by all kind of persons of what state or condition soever, should be so lying and fabulous, specially seeing they have such probability of truth, seeing they describe unto us the father, mother, country, kinsfolk, age, town, and acts of such a knight or knights, and that so exactly, point by point, and day by day. Hold your peace, and never speak again such a blasphemy, and believe me; for I do sincerely counsel you, what you, as a discreet man, ought to do herein; and if not, read them but once, and you shall see what delight you shall receive thereby: if not, tell me, what greater pleasure can there be than to behold, as one would say, even here and before our eyes, a great lake of pitch boiling hot, and many serpents, snakes, lizards, and other kinds of cruel and dreadful beasts swimming athwart it, and in every part of it, and that there issues out of the lake a most lamentable voice, saying, “O thou knight, whatsoever thou art, which dost behold the fearful lake, if thou desirest to obtain the good concealed under these horrid and black waters, show the valour of thy strong breast, and throw thyself into the midst of this sable and inflamed liquor; for if thou dost not so, thou shalt not be worthy to discover the great wonders hidden in the seven castles of the seven fates, which are seated under these gloomy waves”: and that scarce hath the knight heard the fearful voice, when, without entering into any new discourses, or once considering the danger whereinto he thrusts himself, yea, or easing himself of the weight of his ponderous armour, but only commending himself unto God and his lady mistress, he plunges into the midst of that burning puddle, and when he neither cares nor knows what may befall him, he finds himself in the midst of flourishing fields, with which the very Elysian plains can in no sort be compared. There it seems to him that the element is more transparent, and that the sun shines with a clearer light than in our orb; there offers itself to his greedy and curious eye a most pleasing forest, replenished with so green and wellspread trees as the verdure thereof both joys and quickens the sight, whilst the ears are entertained by the harmonious though artless songs of infinite and enamelled birds, which traverse the intricate boughs of that shady habitation; here he discovers a small stream, whose fresh waters, resembling liquid crystal, slide over the small sands and white little stones, resembling sifted gold wherein oriental pearls are enchased; there he discerns an artificial fountain, wrought of motley jasper and smooth marble; and hard by it another, rudely and negligently framed, wherein the sundry cockleshells, with the wreathed white and yellow houses of the periwinkle and snail intermingled, and placed after a disorderly manner (having now and then pieces of clear crystal and counterfeit emeralds mingled among them), do make a work of so graceful variety as art imitating nature doth herein seem to surpass her.

‘Suddenly he discovers a strong castle or goodly palace, whose walls are of beaten gold, the pinnacles of diamonds, the gates of jacinths; finally, it is of so exquisite workmanship, as although the materials whereof it is built are no worse than diamonds, carbuncles, rubies, emeralds, pearls, and gold, yet is the architecture thereof of more estimation and value than they; and is there any more to be seen, after the seeing hereof, than to see sally out at the castle gates a goodly troop of lovely damsels, whose brave and costly attire, if I should attempt to describe, as it is laid down in histories, we should never make an end? And she that seems the chiefest of all, to take presently our bold knight, that threw himself into the boiling lake, by the hand, and carry him into the rich castle or palace without speaking a word, and cause him to strip himself as naked as he was when his mother bore him and bathe him in very temperate waters, and afterwards anoint him all over with precious ointments, and put on him a shirt of most fine, odoriferous, and perfumed sendall; and then another damsel to come suddenly, and cast on his back a rich mantle, which they say is wont to be worth, at the very least, a rich city, yea, and more. Then what a sport it is, when they tell us after, that after this he is carried into another hall, where he finds the tables covered so orderly as he rests amazed! what, to see cast on his hands water distilled all of amber, and most fragrant flowers! what, to see him seated in a chair of ivory! what, to see him served by all the damsels with marvellous silence! what, the setting before him such variety of acates, and those so excellently dressed, as his appetite knows not to which of them it shall first address his hand! what, to hear the music which sounds whilst he is at dinner, without knowing who makes it, or whence it comes! And after that dinner is ended, and the tables taken away, the knight to remain leaning on a chair, and perhaps picking of his teeth, as the custom is, and on a sudden to enter at the hall door another much more beautiful damsel than any of the former, and to sit by his side, and begin to recount unto him what castle that is, and how she is enchanted therein, with many other things that amazed the knight and amazed the readers. I will not enlarge myself any more in this matter, seeing that you may collect out of that which I have said, that any part that is read of any book of a knight-errant will delight and astonish him that shall peruse it with attention. And therefore, I pray you, believe me, and, as I have said already, read those kind of books, and you shall find that they will exile all the melancholy that shall trouble you, and rectify your disposition, if by fortune it be depraved. For I dare affirm of myself, that since I am became a knight-errant, I am valiant, courteous, liberal, well-mannered, generous, gentle, bold, mild, patient, and an endurer of labours, imprisonments, and enchantments. And although it be but so little a while since I was shut up in a cage like a madman, yet do I hope, by the valour of mine arm (Heaven concurring, and fortune not crossing me), to see myself within a few days the king of some kingdoms, wherein I may show the bounty and liberality included within my breast; for in good truth, sir, a poor man is made unable to manifest the virtue of liberality toward any other, although he virtually possess it himself in a most eminent degree; and the will to gratify which, only consisting of will, is a dead thing, as faith without works. For which cause I do wish that fortune would quickly present me some occasion whereby I might make myself an emperor, that I may discover the desire I have to do good unto my friends, but especially to this my poor squire Sancho Panza, who is one of the honestest men in the world, on whom I would fain bestow the earldom which I promised him many days past, but that I fear me he will not be able to govern his estate.’

Sancho, overhearing those last words of his master’s, said, ‘Labour you, Sir Don Quixote, to get me that earldom as often promised by you, as much longed for by me; and I promise you that I will not want sufficiency to govern it; and though I should, yet have I heard say that there are men in the world who take lordships to farm, paying the lord so much by the year, and undertaking the care of the government thereof, whilst the lord himself, with outstretched legs, doth live at his ease, enjoying the rents they bring him, and caring for nothing else; and so will I do, and will not stand racking it to the utmost, but presently desist from all administration, and live merrily upon my rent, like a young duke, and so let the world wag and go how it will.’ ‘That, friend Sancho, is to be understood,’ quoth the canon, ‘of enjoying the revenues; but as concerning the administration of justice, the lord of the seigniory is bound to look to it: in that is required a sufficiency and ability to govern, and above all a good intention to deal justly and determine rightly; for if this be wanting when we begin, our means and ends will always be subject to error; and therefore is God wont as well to further the good designs of the simple, as to disfavour the bad ones of those that be wittily wicked.’

‘I understand not those philosophies,’ quoth Sancho Panza; ‘but this I know well, that I would I had as speedily the earldom as I could tell how to govern it; for I have as much soul as another, and as much body as he that hath most; and I would be as absolute a king in my estate as any one would be in his; and being such, I would do what I liked; and doing what I liked, I would take my pleasure, and taking my pleasure, I would be content; and when one is content, he hath no more to desire; and having no more to desire, the matter were ended: and then, come the estate when it will, or farewell it, and let us behold ourselves, as one blind man said to another,’ ‘They are no bad philosophies which thou comest out with, kind Sancho,’ quoth the canon; ‘but yet for all that, there is much to be said concerning this matter of earldoms.” To that Don Quixote replied, ‘I know not what more may be said, only I govern myself by the example of Amadis de Gaul, who made his squire earl of the Firm Island, and therefore I may without scruple of conscience make Sancho Panza an earl; for he is one of the best squires that ever knight-errant had.’ The canon abode amazed at the well-compacted and orderly ravings of Don Quixote; at the manner wherewith he had deciphered the adventure of the Knight of the Lake; at the impression which his lying books had made into him; and finally, he wondered at the simplicity of Sancho Panza, who so earnestly desired to be made earl of the county his lord had promised him.

By this time the canon’s serving-men, which had gone to the inn for the sumpter mule, were returned; and, making their table of a carpet and of the green grass of that meadow, they sat down under the shadow of the trees, and did eat there, to the end that the wainman might not lose the commodity of the pasture, as we have said before. And as they sat at dinner, they suddenly heard the sound of a little bell issuing from among the briers and brambles that were at hand; and instantly after they saw come out of the thicket a very fair she-goat, whose hide was powdered all over with black, white, and brown spots: after her followed a goatherd, crying unto her, and in his language bidding her stay or return to the fold; but the fugitive goat, all affrighted and fearful, ran towards the company, and, as it were, seeking in her dumb manner to be protected, strayed near unto them. Then did the goatherd arrive; and, laying hold of her horns (as if she had been capable of his reprehension), said unto her, ‘O ye wanton ape, ye spotted elf! how come ye to halt with me of late days? What wolves do scare you, daughter? Will you not tell me, fair, what the matter is? But what can it be other than that you are a female, and therefore can never be quiet? A foul evil take your conditions, and all theirs whom you so much resemble! Turn back, love, turn back; and though you be not so content withal, yet shall you at least be more safe in your own fold, and among the rest of your fellows; for if you that should guide and direct them go thus distracted and wandering, what then must they do? What will become of them?’

The goatherd’s words did not a little delight the hearers, but principally the canon, who said unto him, ‘I pray thee, good fellow, take thy rest here a while, and do not hasten that goat so much to her fold; for, seeing she is a female, as thou sayst, she will follow her natural instinct, how much soever thou opposest thyself unto it. Take therefore that bit, and drink a draught wherewithal thou mayst temper thy choler, and the goat will rest her the whilst.’ And, saying so, he gave him the hinder quarter of a cold rabbit; which he receiving, rendered him many thanks, and, drinking a draught of wine, did pacify himself, and said presently after, ‘I would not have you, my masters, account me simple, although I spoke to this beast in so earnest a fashion; for in truth the words which I used unto her were not without some mystery. I am indeed rustic, and yet not so much but that I know how to converse with men and with beasts.’ ‘I believe that easily,’ quoth the curate; ‘for I know already, by experience, that the woods breed learned men, and sheepcotes contain philosophers.’ ‘At the least, sir,’ replied the goatherd, ‘they have among them experienced men; and that you may give the more credit to this truth, and, as it were, touch it with your own hands (although, till I be bidden, I may seem to invite myself), I will, if you please to hear me but a while, relate unto you a very true accident, which shall make good what this gentleman’ (pointing to the curate) ‘and myself have affirmed.’ To this Don Quixote answered, ‘Because the case doth seem to have in it some shadow of knightly adventures I will, for my part, listen unto thee with a very good will: and I presume that all these gentlemen will do the like, so great is their discretion and desire to know any curious novelty which amaze, delight, and entertain the senses, as I do certainly believe thy history will. Therefore begin it, friend, and all of us will lend our ears unto it.’ ‘I except mine,’ quoth Sancho; ‘for I will go with this pasty unto that little stream, where I mean to fill myself for three days; for I have heard my lord Don Quixote say that a knight-errant’s squire must eat when he can, and always as much as he can, because that oftentimes they enter by chance into some wood so intricate as they cannot get out of it again in five or six days, and if a man’s paunch be not then well stuffed, or his wallet well stored, he may there remain, and be turned, as many times it happens, into mummy.’

‘Thou art in the right of it, Sancho,’ quoth Don Quixote; ‘go, therefore, where thou wilt, and eat what thou mayst; for I am already satisfied, and only want refection for my mind, which now I will give it by listening to this good fellow.’ ‘The same will we also give unto ours,’ quoth the canon, who therewithal entreated the goatherd to keep promise, and begin his tale. Then he, stroking once or twice his pretty goat (which he yet held fast by the horns), said thus, ‘Lie down, pied fool, by me; for we shall have time enough to return home again.’ It seemed that the goat understood him; for as soon as her master sat down, she quietly stretched herself along by him, and, looking him in the face, did give to understand that she was attentive to what he was saying; and then he began his history in this manner.