For the modern world at large, the “Don Quixote” is that one among the works of Cervantes which exercises a paramount claim upon attention, and this it does both because it is the greatest novel as yet produced in the literatures of civilization and because it is the sole work of cosmopolitan importance that Spain has given to the rest of humanity. But in giving it Spain gave a noble gift, one which has brought unfeigned delight to the hearts and the minds of millions of human beings peopling both the Eastern and the Western Hemisphere, and this delight remains ever fresh although three centuries have passed since Don Quixote made his first sally forth.

Cervantes began the “Don Quixote” with the intention of making it a satirical burlesque of the romances of chivalry, which for more than a century before had beguiled the Spanish fancy with accounts of absurdly impossible deeds of derring-do. Their influence served only to entrance the Spanish mind, fascinating it with the glamour of aspects of mediævalism that had long since ceased to exist, and diverting its attention from the real world with its serious daily tasks. As a matter of fact, the sway of the chivalric romances had begun to weaken even before the close of the sixteenth century, but it was from the “Don Quixote” that they received their death stroke, for no new work of their kind appeared after the “Don Quixote” was published. How did Cervantes achieve his purpose? Simply by adopting the methods of the romance of chivalry and showing the falseness of their application to modern life; in a word, by demonstrating that they were out of date. But Cervantes built a structure far more grandiose than at first he had planned, for his work grew under his hand and, transcending the author’s original intent, became a great modern novel which may be read and is generally read with intense interest by countless thousands who know not at all and care not at all that it is an attack upon a literary genre. “Under Cervantes’s vagabond pen,” says Morel-Fatio, a masterly critic of the work, “governed only by the inspiration of the moment, his ‘Don Quixote,’ issuing forth from a simple idea [that of ridiculing the novels of chivalry], of which no great development could have been expected, has become little by little the great social novel of the Spain of the beginning of the seventeenth century, in which all that marks this epoch, its sentiments, passions, prejudices, and institutions, has found a place. Hence the powerful interest of the book, which, independently of its value as a work of the imagination, and as an admirable treatise in practical philosophy, possesses in addition the advantage of fixing the state of civilization of a nation at a precise moment of its existence, and of showing us the depths of its conscience.”

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