MIGUEL DE CERVANTES SAAVEDRA was born in the little Spanish university town of Alcalá de Henares, in 1547. His father was a poor physician with a large family and with somewhat nomadic propensities, haling his offspring about from Alcalá to various other cities, such as Valladolid, Madrid, and Seville. The chances are that Miguel did not receive a university training. It is conjectured, on fairly reasonable grounds, that he qualified for teaching and became a tutor in a school at Madrid. At all events, by 1569 he was attached to the train of the Italian prelate, Acquaviva, who had come to Spain as papal nuncio, and with the latter he went to Rome toward the end of that year.

He did not long remain there, for in 1570 he was a gentleman volunteer on one of the vessels which, under Don John of Austria, inflicted a crushing defeat upon the Turk at the battle of Lepanto. In the engagement Cervantes was wounded quite seriously in his left hand, which remained forever after somewhat crippled. Still, after a period of convalescence spent in Italy, he played a part in other campaigns. Wearying of warfare, he took ship for Spain in September of 1575, having first provided himself with letters of recommendation from his military superiors and the viceroy of Naples. These credentials, by means of which he had hoped to obtain preferment at home, proved to be his undoing, for his vessel was captured by Moorish pirates and he was carried off to Algiers, where, because of the terms of praise in which these letters spoke of him, he was deemed a person of high degree and held for an excessively large ransom.

As his family and his friends could not raise the exorbitant sum demanded for his release, he remained five years a captive at Algiers, passing through most varied experiences. Finally, as a result of a happy chance, he was liberated and could return to Spain. He has himself adverted to the manner of his life as a slave at Algiers in his play, “El trato de Argel,” and in the episode of “El cautivo” in “Don Quixote,” and tradition has even more to say respecting it. It would seem that he headed many attempts at escape on the part of the Christian captives and nevertheless was not subjected to the penalties for such attempts, of which empalement was the most usual. Possibly his captors regarded him as a madman and therefore, according to Mohammedan ideas, exempt from punishment for his offenses.

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