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. 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.
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