Miguel de Cervantes Biography
MIGUEL DE CERVANTES SAAVEDRA (1547-1616), Spanish novelist (Don Quixote and others), playwright, and poet was born at Alcalá de Henares in 1547. The attempts of biographers to provide him with an illustrious genealogy are unsuccessful. The family history begins with the author’s grandfather, Juan de Cervantes (b. 1490), a lawyer who at one time (1545-6) administered the estates of the duke de Osuna, and resided later at Cordova, where he died about 1555. Cervantes’ father was Rodrigo de Cervantes, an apothecary-surgeon, who married Leonor de Cortinas in 1540 or 1541. The children of this marriage were Andrés (b. 1543), Andrea (b. 1544), Luisa (b. 1546), Miguel, Rodrigo (b. 1550), Magdalena (b. 1554) and Juan (of whom nothing is known beyond the mention of him in his father’s will).
Cervantes Early Life
The exact date of Cervantes’ birth is not recorded: he was baptized on the 9th of October 1547, in the church of Santa Maria la Mayor at Alcalá. There are indications that Rodrigo de Cervantes resided at Valladolid in 1554, at Madrid in 1561, at Seville in 1564-1565, and at Madrid from 1566 onwards. It may be assumed that his family accompanied him, and it seems likely that either at Valladolid or at Madrid Cervantes saw the famous actor-manager and dramatist, Lope de Rueda, of whose performances he speaks enthusiastically in the preface to his plays.
In 1569 a Madrid schoolmaster, Juan Lopez de Hoyos, issued a work commemorative of Philip II.’s third wife, Isabel de Valois, who had died on the 3rd of October 1568. This volume, entitled Historia y relación verdadera de la enfermedad, felicisimo tránsito y sumptuosas exequias fúnebres de la Serenisima Reyna de Españia Doña Isabel de Valoys, contains six contributions by Cervantes: a sonnet, four redondillas, and an elegy. Lopez de Hoyos introduces Cervantes as “our dear and beloved pupil,” and the elegy is dedicated to Cardinal Espinosa “in the name of the whole school.”
It has been inferred that Cervantes was educated by Lopez de Hoyos, but this conclusion is untenable, for Lopez de Hoyos’ school was not opened till 1567. On the 13th of October 1568, Giulio Acquaviva reached Madrid charged with a special mission to Philip II.; he left for Rome on the 2nd of December, and Cervantes is supposed to have accompanied him. This conjecture is based solely on a passage in the dedication of the Galatea, where the writer speaks of having been “camarero to Cardinal Acquaviva at Rome.” There is, however, no reason to think that Cervantes met Acquaviva in Madrid; the probability is that he enlisted as a supernumerary towards the end of 1568, that he served in Italy, and there entered the household of Acquaviva, who had been raised to the cardinalate on the 17th of May 1570.
There exists a warrant (dated September 15, 1569) for the arrest of one Miguel de Cervantes, who had wounded Antonio de Sigura, and had been condemned in absence to have his right hand cut off and to be exiled from the capital for ten years; and it has been sought to identify the offender with the future author of Don Quixote. No evidence is available. All that is known with certainty is that Cervantes was in Rome at the end of 1569, for on the 22nd of December of that year the fact was recorded in an official information lodged by Rodrigo de Cervantes with a view to proving his son’s legitimacy and untainted Christian descent.
If it is difficult to say precisely when Cervantes was in Acquaviva’s service, it is no less difficult to say when he left it to join the regular army. There is evidence, more or less satisfactory, that his enlistment took place in 1570; in 1571 he was serving as a private in the company commanded by Captain Diego de Urbina which formed part of Miguel de Moncada’s famous regiment, and on the 16th of September he sailed from Messina on board the “Marquesa,” which formed part of the armada under Don John of Austria. At the battle of Lepanto (October 7, 1571) the “Marquesa” was in the thickest of the conflict. As the fleet came into action Cervantes lay below, ill with fever; but, despite the remonstrances of his comrades, he vehemently insisted on rising to take his share in the fighting, and was posted with twelve men under him in a boat by the galley’s side. He received three gunshot wounds, two in the chest, and one which permanently maimed his right hand—“for the greater glory of the right,” in his own phrase.
On the 30th of October the fleet returned to Messina, where Cervantes went into hospital, and during his convalescence received grants-in-aid amounting to eighty-two ducats. On the 29th of April 1572 he was transferred to Captain Manuel Ponce de León’s company in Lope de Figueroa’s regiment; he shared in the indecisive naval engagement off Navarino on the 7th of October 1572, in the capture of Tunis on the 10th of October 1573, and in the unsuccessful expedition to relieve the Goletta in the autumn of 1574. The rest of his military service was spent in garrison at Palermo and Naples, and shortly after the arrival of Don John at Naples on the 18th of June 1575, Cervantes was granted leave to return to Spain; he received a recommendatory letter from Don John to Philip II., and a similar testimonial from the duke de Sessa, viceroy of Sicily. Armed with these credentials, Cervantes embarked on the “Sol” to push his claim for promotion in Spain.
Capture, Enslavement, Ransom, Release
On the 26th of September 1575, near Les Trois Maries off the coast of Marseilles, the “Sol” and its companion ships the “Mendoza” and the “Higuera” encountered a squadron of Barbary corsairs under Arnaut Mami; Cervantes, his brother Rodrigo and other Spaniards were captured, and were taken as prisoners to Algiers. Cervantes became the slave of a Greek renegade named Dali Mami, and, as the letters found on him were taken to prove that he was a man of importance in a position to pay a high ransom, he was put under special surveillance. With undaunted courage and persistence he organized plans of escape. In 1576 he induced a Moor to guide him and other Christian captives to Oran; the Moor deserted them on the road, the baffled fugitives returned to Algiers, and Cervantes was treated with additional severity.
In the spring of 1577 two priests of the Order of Mercy arrived in Algiers with a sum of three hundred crowns entrusted to them by Cervantes’ parents; the amount was insufficient to free him, and was spent in ransoming his brother Rodrigo. Cervantes made another attempt to escape in September 1577, but was betrayed by the renegade whose services he had enlisted. On being brought before Hassan Pasha, the viceroy of Algiers, he took the blame on himself, and was threatened with death; struck, however, by the heroic bearing of the prisoner, Hassan remitted the sentence, and bought Cervantes from Dali Mami for five hundred crowns. In 1577 the captive addressed to the Spanish secretary of state, Mateo Vazquez, a versified letter suggesting that an expedition should be fitted out to seize Algiers; the project, though practicable, was not entertained. In 1578 Cervantes was sentenced to two thousand strokes for sending a letter begging help from Martín de Córdoba, governor of Oran; the punishment was not, however, inflicted on him.
Meanwhile his family were not idle. In March 1578 his father presented a petition to the king setting forth Cervantes’ services; the duke de Sessa repeated his testimony to the captive’s merits; in the spring of 1579 Cervantes’ mother applied for leave to export two thousand ducats’ worth of goods from Valencia to Algiers, and on the 31st of July 1579 she gave the Trinitarian monks, Juan Gil and Antón de la Bella, a sum of two hundred and fifty ducats to be applied to her son’s ransom. On his side Cervantes was indefatigable, and towards the end of 1579 he arranged to secure a frigate; but the plot was revealed to Hassan by Juan Blanco de Paz, a Dominican monk, who appears to have conceived an unaccountable hatred of Cervantes. Once more the conspirator’s life was spared by Hassan who, it is recorded, declared that “so long as he had the maimed Spaniard in safe keeping, his Christians, ships and city were secure.”
On the 29th of May 1580 the two Trinitarians arrived in Algiers: they were barely in time, for Hassan’s term of office was drawing 764 to a close, and the arrangement of any ransom was a slow process, involving much patient bargaining. Hassan refused to accept less than five hundred gold ducats for his slave; the available funds fell short of this amount, and the balance was collected from the Christian traders of Algiers. Cervantes was already embarked for Constantinople when the money was paid on the 19th of September 1580. The first use that he made of his liberty was to cause affidavits of his proceedings at Algiers to be drawn up; he sailed for Spain towards the end of October, landed at Denia in November, and made his way to Madrid. He signed an information before a notary in that city on the 18th of December 1580.
These dates prove that he cannot, as is often alleged, have served under Alva in the Portuguese campaign of 1580: that campaign ended with the battle of Alcántara on the 25th of August 1580. It seems certain, however, that he visited Portugal soon after his return from Algiers, and in May 1581 he was sent from Thomar on a mission to Oran. Construed literally, a formal statement of his services, signed by Cervantes on the 21st of May 1590, makes it appear that he served in the Azores campaigns of 1582-83; but the wording of the document is involved, the claims of Cervantes are confused with those of his brother Rodrigo (who was promoted ensign at the Azores), and on the whole it is doubtful if he took part in either of the expeditions under Santa Cruz.
Life and Writing in Portugal
In any case, the stories of his residence in Portugal, and of his love affairs with a noble Portuguese lady who bore him a daughter, are simple inventions. From 1582-3 to 1587 Cervantes seems to have written copiously for the stage, and in the Adjunta al Parnaso he mentions several of his plays as “worthy of praise”; these were Los Tratos de Argel, La Numancia, La Gran Turquesa, La Batalla naval, La Jerusalem, La Amaranta ó la de Mayo, El Bosque amoroso, La Unica y Bizarra Ársinda—“and many others which I do not remember, but that which I most prize and pique myself on was, and is, one called La Confusa which, with all respect to as many sword-and-cloak plays as have been staged up to the present, may take a prominent place as being good among the best.” Of these only Los Tratos de Argel (or El Trato de Argel) and La Numancia have survived, and, though La Numancia contains many fine rhetorical passages, both plays go to prove that the author’s genius was not essentially dramatic.
In February 1584 he obtained a licence to print a pastoral novel entitled Primera parte de la Galatea, the copyright of which he sold on the 14th of June to Blas de Robles, a bookseller at Alcalá de Henares, for 1336 reales. On the 12th of December he married Catalina de Palacios Salazar y Vozmediano of Esquivias, eighteen years his junior. The Galatea was published in the spring of 1585, and is frequently said to relate the story of Cervantes’ courtship, and to introduce various distinguished writers under pastoral names. These assertions must be received with great reserve. The birth of an illegitimate daughter, borne to Cervantes by a certain Ana Francisca de Rojas, is referred to 1584, and earlier in that same year the Galatea had passed the censor; with few exceptions, the identifications of the characters in the book with personages in real life are purely conjectural.
These circumstances, together with the internal evidence of the work, point to the conclusion that the Galatea was begun and completed before 1583. It was only twice reprinted—once at Lisbon (1590), and once at Paris (1611)—during the author’s lifetime; but it won him a measure of repute, it was his favourite among his books, and during the thirty years that remained to him he repeatedly announced the second part which is promised conditionally in the text. However, it is not greatly to be regretted that the continuation was never published; though the Galatea is interesting as the first deliberate bid for fame on the part of a great genius, it is an exercise in the pseudo-classic literature introduced into Italy by Sannazaro, and transplanted to Spain by the Portuguese Montemõr; and, ingenious or eloquent as the Renaissance prose-pastoral may be, its innate artificiality stifles Cervantes’ rich and glowing realism.
Cervantes himself recognized its defects; with all his weakness for the Galatea, he ruefully allows that “it proposes something and concludes nothing.” Its comparative failure was a serious matter for Cervantes who had no other resource but his pen; his plays were probably less successful than his account of them would imply, and at any rate play-writing was not at this time a lucrative occupation in Spain. No doubt the death of his father on the 13th of June 1585 increased the burden of Cervantes’ responsibilities; and the dowry of his wife, as appears from a document dated the 9th of August 1586, consisted of nothing more valuable than five vines, an orchard, some household furniture, four beehives, forty-five hens and chickens, one cock and a crucible.
Employment and Financial Straits
It had become evident that Cervantes could not gain his bread by literature, and in 1587 he went to Seville to seek employment in connexion with the provisioning of the Invincible Armada. He was placed under the orders of Antonio de Guevara, and before the 24th of February was excommunicated for excessive zeal in collecting wheat at Écija. During the next few months he was engaged in gathering stores at Seville and the adjacent district, and after the defeat of the Armada he was retained as commissary to the galleys.
Tired of the drudgery, and without any prospect of advancement, on the 21st of May 1590 Cervantes drew up a petition to the king, recording his services and applying for one of four posts then vacant in the American colonies: a place in the department of public accounts in New Granada, the governorship of Soconusco in Guatemala, the position of auditor to the galleys at Cartagena, or that of corregidor in the city of La Paz. The petition was referred to the Council of the Indies, and was annotated with the words:—“Let him look for something nearer home.”
Cervantes perforce remained at his post; the work was hard, uncongenial and ill-paid, and the salary was in constant arrears. In November 1590 he was in such straits that he borrowed money to buy himself a suit of clothes, and in August 1592 his sureties were called upon to make good a deficiency of 795 reales in his accounts. His thoughts turned to literature once more, and on the 5th of September 1592, he signed a contract with Rodrigo Osorio undertaking to write six plays at fifty ducats each, no payment to be made unless Osorio considered that each of these pieces was “one of the best ever produced in Spain.”
Nothing came of this agreement, and it appears that, between the date of signing it and the 19th of September, Cervantes was imprisoned (for reasons unknown to us) at Castro del Río. He was speedily released, and continued to perquisition as before in Andalusia; but his literary ambitions were not dead, and in May 1595 he won the first prize—three silver spoons—at a poetical tourney held in honour of St Hyacinth at Saragossa.
Shortly afterwards Cervantes found himself in difficulties with the exchequer officials. He entrusted a sum of 7400 reales to a merchant named Simón Freire de Lima with instructions to pay the amount into the treasury at Madrid; the agent became bankrupt and absconded, leaving Cervantes responsible for the deficit. By some means the money was raised, and the debt was liquidated on the 21st of January 1597. But Cervantes’ position was shaken, and his unbusinesslike habits lent themselves to misinterpretation. On the 6th of September 1597 he was ordered to find sureties that he would present himself at Madrid within twenty days, and there submit to the exchequer vouchers for all official moneys collected by him in Granada and elsewhere.
No such sureties being available, he was committed to Seville jail, but was released on the 1st of December on condition that he complied with the original order of the court within thirty days. He was apparently unable to find bail, was dismissed from the public service, and sank into extreme poverty. During a momentary absence from Seville in February 1590, he was again summoned to Madrid by the treasury, but does not appear to have obeyed: it is only too likely that he had not the money to pay for the journey. There is some reason to think that he was imprisoned at Seville in 1602, but nothing positive is known of his existence between 1600 and the 8th of February 1603: at the latter date he seems to have been at Valladolid, to which city Philip III. had removed the court in 1601.
Since the publication of the Galatea in 1585 Cervantes’ 765 contributions to literature had been limited to occasional poems. In 1591 he published a ballad in Andrés de Villalta’s Flor de varios y nuevos romances; in 1595 he composed a poem, already mentioned, to celebrate the canonization of St Hyacinth; in 1596 he wrote a sonnet ridiculing Medina Sidonia’s tardy entry into Cadiz after the English invaders had retired, and in the same year his sonnet lauding Santa Cruz was printed in Cristóbal. Mosquera de Figueroa’s Comentario en breve compendio de disciplina militar; to 1597 is assigned a sonnet (the authenticity of which is disputed) commemorative of the poet Herrera; in 1598 he wrote two sonnets and a copy of quintillas on the death of Philip II.; and in 1602 a complimentary sonnet from his pen appeared in the second edition of Lope de Vega’s Dragontea.
Curiously enough, it is by Lope de Vega that Don Quixote is first mentioned. Writing to an unknown correspondent (apparently a physician) on the 14th of August 1604, Lope de Vega says that “no poet is as bad as Cervantes, nor so foolish as to praise Don Quixote,” and he goes on to speak of his own plays as being odious to Cervantes. It is obvious that the two men had quarrelled since 1602, and that Lope de Vega smarted under the satire of himself and his works in Cervantes’ forthcoming book; Don Quixote may have been circulated in manuscript, or may even have been printed before the official licence was granted on the 26th of September 1604. It was published early in 1605, and was dedicated to the seventh duke de Béjar in phrases largely borrowed from the dedication in Herrera’s edition (1580) of Garcilaso de la Vega, and from Francisco de Medina’s preface to that work.
The mention of Bernardo de la Vega’s Pastor de Iberia shows that the sixth chapter of Don Quixote cannot have been written before 1591. In the prologue Cervantes describes his masterpiece as being “just what might be begotten in a jail”; on the strength of this passage, it has been thought that he conceived the story, and perhaps began writing it, during one of his terms of imprisonment at Seville between 1597 and 1602. Within a few weeks of its publication at Madrid, three pirated editions of Don Quixote were issued at Lisbon; a second authorized edition, imperfectly revised, was hurried out at Madrid; and another reprint appeared at Valencia with an aprobación dated 18th July 1605. With the exception of Alemán’s Guzmán de Alfarache, no Spanish book of the period was more successful.
Modern criticism is prone to regard Don Quixote as a symbolic, didactic or controversial work intended to bring about radical reforms in church and state. Such interpretations did not occur to Cervantes’ contemporaries, nor to Cervantes himself. There is no reason for rejecting his plain statement that his main object was to ridicule the romances of chivalry, which in their latest developments had become a tissue of tiresome absurdities. It seems clear that his first intention was merely to parody these extravagances in a short story; but as he proceeded the immense possibilities of the subject became more evident to him, and he ended by expanding his work into a brilliant panorama of Spanish society as it existed during the 16th century. Nobles, knights, poets, courtly gentlemen, priests, traders, farmers, barbers, muleteers, scullions and convicts; accomplished ladies, impassioned damsels, Moorish beauties, simple-hearted country-girls and kindly kitchen-wenches of questionable morals — all these are presented with the genial fidelity which comes of sympathetic insight. The immediate vogue of Don Quixote was due chiefly to its variety of incident, to its wealth of comedy bordering on farce, and perhaps also to its keen thrusts at eminent contemporaries; its reticent pathos, its large humanity, and its penetrating criticism of life were less speedily appreciated.
Meanwhile, on the 12th of April 1605, Cervantes authorized his publisher to proceed against the Lisbon booksellers who threatened to introduce their piratical reprints into Castile. By June the citizens of Valladolid already regarded Don Quixote and Sancho Panza as proverbial types. Less gratifying experiences awaited the popular author. On the 27th of June 1605 Gaspar de Ezpeleta, a Navarrese gentleman of dissolute life, was wounded outside the lodging-house in which Cervantes and his family lived; he was taken indoors, was nursed by Cervantes’ sister Magdalena, and died on the 29th of June. That same day Cervantes, his natural daughter (Isabel de Saavedra), his sister Andrea and her daughter were lodged in jail on suspicion of being indirectly concerned in Ezpeleta’s death; one of the witnesses made damaging charges against Cervantes’ daughter, but no substantial evidence was produced, and the prisoners were released.
Cervantes at Mid-Life
Little is known of Cervantes’ life between 1605 and 1608. A Relación of the festivities held to celebrate the birth of Philip IV., and a certain Carta á don Diego Astudillo Carrillo have been erroneously ascribed to him; during these three years he apparently wrote nothing beyond three sonnets, and one of these is of doubtful authenticity. The depositions of the Valladolid enquiry show that he was living in poverty five months after the appearance of Don Quixote, and the fact that he borrowed 450 reales from his publisher before November 1607 would convey the idea that his position improved slowly, if at all. But it is difficult to reconcile this view of his circumstances with the details concerning his illegitimate daughter revealed in documents recently discovered. Isabel de Saavedra was stated to be a spinster when arrested at Valladolid in June 1605; the settlement of her marriage with Luis de Molina in 1608 describes her as the widow of Diego Sanz, as the mother of a daughter eight months old, and as owning house-property of some value.
These particulars are perplexing, and the situation is further complicated by the publication of a deed in which Cervantes declares that he himself is the real owner of this house-property, and that his daughter has merely a life-interest in it. This claim may be regarded as a legal fiction; it cannot easily be reconciled with Cervantes’ statement towards the end of his life, that he was dependent on the bounty of the count de Lemos and of Bernardo de Sandoval, cardinal-archbishop of Toledo. In 1609 he joined the newly founded confraternity of the Slaves of the Most Blessed Sacrament; in 1610 Lemos was appointed viceroy of Naples, and Cervantes was keenly disappointed at not being chosen to accompany his patron.
In 1611 he lost his sister Magdalena, who was buried by the charity of the Tertiaries of Saint Francis; in 1612 he joined the Academia Selvaje, and there appears to have renewed his former friendly relations with Lope de Vega; in 1613 he dedicated his Novelas exemplares to the count de Lemos, and disposed of his rights for 1600 reales and twenty-four copies of the book. The twelve tales in this volume, some of them written very much later than others, are of unequal merit, but they contain some of the writer’s best work, and the two picaresque stories—Rinconete y Cortadillo and the Coloquio de los perros — are superb examples of their kind, and would alone entitle Cervantes to take rank with the greatest masters of Spanish prose.
In 1614 he published the Viage del Parnaso, a burlesque poem suggested by the Viaggio in Parnaso (1582) of the Perugian poet Cesare Caporali. It contains some interesting autobiographical passages, much flattery of contemporary poetasters, and a few happy satirical touches; but, though it is Cervantes’ most serious bid for fame as a poet, it has seldom been reprinted, and would probably have been forgotten but for an admirably humorous postscript in prose which is worthy of the author at his best. In the preface to his Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses nuevos (1615) he good-humouredly admits that his dramatic works found no favour with managers, and, when this collection was first reprinted (1749), the editor advanced the fantastic theory that the comedias were deliberate exercises in absurdity, intended to parody the popular dramas of the day. This view cannot be maintained, but a sharp distinction must be drawn between the eight set plays and the eight interludes; with one or two exceptions, the comedias or set plays are unsuccessful experiments in Lope de Vega’s manner, while the entremeses or interludes, particularly those in prose, are models of spontaneous gaiety and ingenious wit.
Sequels to Don Quixote
In the preface to the Novelas exemplares Cervantes had announced the speedy appearance of the sequel to Don Quixote which he had vaguely promised at the end of the first part. He was at work on the fifty-ninth chapter of his continuation when he learned that he had been anticipated by Alonso Fernandez de Avellaneda of Tordesillas, whose Segunde tamo del ingenioso 766 hidalgo don Quixote de la Mancha was published at Tarragona in 1614. On the assumption that Fernandez de Avellaneda is a pseudonym, this spurious sequel has been ascribed to the king’s confessor, Luis de Aliaga, to Cervantes’ old enemy, Blanco de Paz, to his old friend, Bartolomé Leonardo de Argensola, to the three great dramatists, Lope de Vega, Tirso de Molina and Ruiz de Alarcón, to Alonso Fernandez, to Juan José Martí, to Alfonso Lamberto, to Luis de Granada, and probably to others.
Some of these attributions are manifestly absurd — for example, Luis de Granada died seventeen years before the first part of Don Quixote was published — and all of them are improbable conjectures; if Avellaneda be not the real name of the author, his identity is still undiscovered. His book is not devoid of literary talent and robust humour, and possibly he began it under the impression that Cervantes was no more likely to finish Don Quixote than to finish the Galatea. He should, however, have abandoned his project on reading the announcement in the preface to the Novelas exemplares; what he actually did was to disgrace himself by writing an insolent preface taunting Cervantes with his physical defects, his moral infirmities, his age, loneliness and experiences in jail. He was too intelligent to imagine that his continuation could hold its own against the authentic sequel, and malignantly avowed his intention of being first in the field and so spoiling Cervantes’ market. It is quite possible that Don Quixote might have been left incomplete but for this insulting intrusion; Cervantes was a leisurely writer and was, as he states, engaged on El Engaño à los ojos, Las Semanas del Jardín and El Famoso Bernardo, none of which have been preserved. Avellaneda forced him to concentrate his attention on his masterpiece, and the authentic second part of Don Quixote appeared towards the end of 1615.
No book more signally contradicts the maxim, quoted by the Bachelor Carrasco, that “no second part was ever good.” It is true that the last fourteen chapters are damaged by undignified denunciations of Avellaneda; but, apart from this, the second part of Don Quixote is an improvement on the first. The humour is more subtle and mature; the style is of more even excellence; and the characters of the bachelor and of the physician, Pedro Recio de Agüero, are presented with a more vivid effect than any of the secondary characters in the first part. Cervantes had clearly profited by the criticism of those who objected to “the countless cudgellings inflicted on Señor Don Quixote,” and to the irrelevant interpolation of extraneous stories in the text. Don Quixote moves through the second part with unruffled dignity; Sancho Panza loses something of his rustic cunning, but he gains in wit, sense and manners. The original conception is unchanged in essentials, but it is more logically developed, and there is a notable progress in construction. Cervantes had grown to love his knight and squire, and he understood his own creations better than at the outset; more completely master of his craft, he wrote his sequel with the unfaltering confidence of a renowned artist bent on sustaining his reputation.
The first part of Don Quixote had been reprinted at Madrid in 1608; it had been produced at Brussels in 1607 and 1611, and at Milan in 1610; it had been translated into English in 1612 and into French in 1614. Cervantes was celebrated in and out of Spain, but his celebrity had not brought him wealth. The members of the French special embassy, sent to Madrid in February 1615, under the Commandeur de Sillery, heard with amazement that the author of the Galatea, the Novelas exemplares and Don Quixote was “old, a soldier, a gentleman and poor.” But his trials were almost at an end. Though failing in health, he worked assiduously at Los Trabajos de Persiles y Sigismunda, which, as he had jocosely prophesied in the preface to the second part of Don Quixote, would be “either the worst or the best book ever written in our tongue.” It is the most carefully written of his prose works, and the least animated or attractive of them; signs of fatigue and of waning powers are unmistakably visible.
The Death of Cervantes
Cervantes was not destined to see it in print. He was attacked by dropsy, and, on the 18th of April 1616, received the sacrament of extreme unction; next day he wrote the dedication of Persiles y Sigismunda to the count de Lemos — the most moving and gallant of farewells. He died at Madrid in the Calle del León on the 23rd of April; he was borne from his house “with his face uncovered,” according to the rule of the Tertiaries of St Francis, and on the 24th of April was buried in the church attached to the convent of the Trinitarian nuns in the Calle de Cantarranas. There he rests — the story of his remains being removed in 1633 to the Calle del Humilladero has no foundation in fact—but the exact position of his grave is unknown.
Early in 1617 Persiles y Sigismunda was published, and passed through eight editions within two years; but the interest in it soon died away, and it was not reprinted between 1625 and 1719. Cervantes’ wife died without issue on the 31st of October 1626; his natural daughter, who survived both the child of her first marriage and her second husband, died on the 20th of September 1652. Cervantes is represented solely by his works. The Novelas exemplares alone would give him the foremost place among Spanish novelists; Don Quixote entitles him to rank with the greatest writers of all time: “children turn its leaves, young people read it, grown men understand it, old folk praise it.” It has outlived all changes of literary taste, and is even more popular to-day than it was three centuries ago.
Leopold Rius, Bibliografía crítica de las obras de Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Madrid, 1895-1905, 3 vols.); Obras completas (Madrid, 1863-1864, 12 vols.), edited by Juan Eugenio Hartzenbusch; Complete Works (Glasgow, 1901-1906, 8 vols. in progress), edited by James Fitzmaurice-Kelly; Don Quijote (Madrid, 1833-1839, 6 vols.), edited by Diego Clemencíu; Don Quixote (London, 1899-1900, 2 vols.), edited by James Fitzmaurice-Kelly and John Ormsby; Don Quijote (Madrid, 1905-1906, 2 vols. in progress), edited by Clemente Cortejón; Rinconete y Cortadillo (Sevilla, 1905), edited by Francisco Rodriguez Marín; Epístola á Mateo Vázquez (Madrid, 1905), edited by E[milio] C[otarelo]; Julián Apráiz, Estudio histórico-crítico sobre las Novelas ejemplares de Cervantes (Madrid, 1901); Francisco A. de Icaza, Las Novelas ejemplares de Cervantes (Madrid, 1901); Francisco Rodríguez Marín, El Loaysa de “El Celoso Extremeño” (Sevilla, 1901); Narciso Díaz de Escovar, Apuntes escénicos cervantinos (Madrid, 1905); Manuel José García, Estudio crítico acerca del entremés “El Vizcaino fingido” (Madrid, 1905); Alfred Morel-Fatio, L’Espagne de Don Quichotte in Études sur l’Espagne (Paris, 1895, 2me série); Julio Puyol y Alonso, Estado social que refleja “El Quijote” (Madrid, 1905); James Fitzmaurice-Kelly, Cervantes in England (London, 1905); Raymond Foulché-Delbose, Étude sur “La tia fingida,” in the Revue hispanique (Paris, 1899), vol. vi. pp. 256-306; Benedetto Croce, Due illustrazioni al “Viage del Parnaso,” in the Homenaje á Menéndez y Pelayo (Madrid, 1899), vol. i. pp. 161-193; Paul Groussac, Une Énigme littéraire: le Don Quichotte d’Avellaneda (Paris, 1903); Alonso Fernández de Avellaneda, El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha (Barcelona, ), edited by Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo; Julio Cejador y Franca, La Lengua de Cervantes (Madrid, 1905, &c.); Martin Fernández de Navarrete, Vida de Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (Madrid, 1819); Cristóbal Perez Pastor, Documentos Cervantinos hasta ahora inéditos (Madrid, 1897-1902, 2 vols.); Emilio Cotardo y Mori, Efemérides Cervantinas (Madrid, 1905); Francisco Rodríguez Marín, Cervantes estudió en Sevilla, 1564-1565 (Seville, 1905).