Observations on Shelton's Don Quixote

 


1547-1616

By Dr. R. Langdon-Down

In the series of Tudor translations No. XIII dated 1890 is an excellent transcript of the first (1612) edition of Thomas Shelton's Don Quixote, and the second part which followed in 1620. Mr. James Fitzmaurice-Kelly, the great Spanish scholar and the authority on Don Quixote writes an admirable introduction which occupies fifty pages. After considering all the facts he admits that we know nothing of Shelton but for the appearance of his name dedicating this "translation out of the Spanish tongue to the Lord of Walden, etc. as his Honours most affectionate servitor." The name of Shelton does not appear in the second part of the book which was published in 1620 but it is held to be the work of the same hand. After a critical examination of the facts Fitzmaurice-Kelly writes: "The basis of Shelton's version is, it may be asserted, irrefragably proved to be the Brussels reprint of 1607." He also states: "On a review of the available evidence only one conclusion is possible, that Shelton translated directly from the Spanish edition published in Brussels in 1607. Any other inference is not only illegitimate but manifestly absurd" and "there is absolutely no evidence to support a recent theory that Thomas Shelton is a pseudonym." At this time (1890) it is probably true that no doubts had been expressed on the claims of Cervantes to the authorship of Don Quixote, and on that assumption Fitzmaurice-Kelly would appear to have ample justification for these conclusions. For it seems clear that the Shelton version is definitely associated with the Brussels text more closely than with any other. Since those days it has been realised that in the question of the authorship of Don Quixote we are confronted with a world of make-believe as shown in "The Author's Preface to the Reader," in the references in the text to Cid Hamet Benegeli as the author, the probable significance of the name given to him and the ambiguities of the dedication letter signed by Shelton in his version. It is perhaps going too far to regard this as evidence but it should surely warn us to be cautious in accepting statements made at their face value.

Fitzmaurice-Kelly himself draws attention to a curious fact, Don Quixote was licensed for the press in September 1604 and was published in Madrid early in 1605. "Oddly enough," he says, "the book is twice named at a date earlier than that imprinted on its title page." Lope de Vega in a letter dated August 4th, 1604 writes-- "No budding poet is as bad as Cervantes, none so foolish as to praise Don Quixote."

It is indeed difficult to understand how it was that the book was known in the literary world of Madrid some six months before its publication and its author had openly praised it at the time. Some explanation is needed, but is not given. It would not be difficult to suggest how this might have come about if Cervantes were only a mask or agent for the real author.

Fitzmaurice-Kelly as well as Lope de Vega has no high opinion of Cervantes as a poet. He writes: "In a collection of verses on the death' of Philip the Second's wife, Isabel de Valois, Cervantes dawns upon literature with live redondillas, an epitaph and an elegy, all of decent mediocrity. So far as concerns the poetic gifts his endowment was scant, to the last day of his life he was all too ready a sonneteer." "He also wrote some twenty plays none of which were a success and to judge from the examples left to us he was rejected on his strict demerits." "In competition with homelier wits he fails to shine." And yet Don Quixote was hailed as a masterpiece in Spain and later in Europe outside Spain. A fifth edition was published in Valencia in July 1605 and a second part was published in 1615 shortly before Cervantes' death in 1616, and yet he died in poverty.

Nothing seems to fit. In view of these strange circumstances the suggestion has been made and received considerable support that the book owes its origin to some other hand than that of Cervantes. The remarkable character of Shelton's so called translation, the mystery of its production and the failure to identify Shelton have led to the view that here in some way we have the origin of Don Quixote, and in Shelton a mask behind which stands the real author. A summary of the grounds on which this theory has been based may be found in a chapter of Mr. Edward Johnson's recent enlarged issue of his book, The Shaksper Illusion. The search continues. When it was seen that the Author's Preface to the Reader was printed in italics in the 1890 reprint, it was thought that this might be a vehicle for embodying information by the bi-literal cipher, and provide material for an independent test of the genuineness of Mrs. Gallup's decipherment, and so photographs of the Preface were taken from the original in the British Museum. When the prints were examined clues of a different kind were found. It will be seen from the facsimiles reproduced in this number that the ornamental headpiece shows an example of the light and dark. A design often associated with books in the production of which Bacon was closely interested. It also appeared that parts of the Preface were printed in Roman type, this being used for the most part for proper names and quotations but not consistently, some words being in Roman type for no obvious reason and some words being in italics. It was also found that in one place the word Qui-xote divided by a hyphen as here written. These facts suggested a count of the Roman-type words and when all the words or part-words in the Preface were counted it was found that the number was 157. This is held to be significant as it is the simple cipher count of Fra Rosie Cross as has been noted elsewhere by the late Frank Woodward and others.

Shelton or the true author seems at times to be playing a game with his readers as we have already seen. Thus in Book I, chapter 7, we read "Then did they bestow on them some title of an Earle or at least a Marquesse, etc.," on which Shelton remarks in a side-note, "The title of a Marquesse is less than that of an Earle in Spain." The writer of the Preface to the Reader who is supposed to be the author of the book and a Spaniard and therefore likely to be familiar with the precedence of titles in Spain gives a rather superfluous list of titles when he writes "such sonnets, whose authors bee Dukes, Marquesses, Earles, Bishops, Ladies or famous Poets." He thus makes the very mistake to the avoidance of which the foreigner Shelton surprisingly calls attention in the text. Not content with this in Part 2, chapter 24, there is a note made by Shelton that the term Grandee is a name given to men of title Dukes, Marquesses, Earles in Spain, again seemingly superfluous and making the very mistake in precedence of which he was aware as shown by his note in Part 1. Is all this mere frivolity or does Shelton wish to throw doubt on the identity of the writer of the book and once more to direct the reader's attention to it? A similar ambiguity occurs when the writer of the Preface goes on to say: "Although, if I would demand them (i.e. Sonnets) of two or three Artificers of mine acquaintance I know they would make me some such, as those of the most renowned in Spaine would no wise be able to equall or compare with them." It is not surprising that the reader should be puzzled by the contrasts and apparent inconsistencies in Shelton's work as is manifest in what Fitzmaurice-Kelly says about its excellencies and demerits. Thus he writes that Shelton's colloquial knowledge of Spanish urges him to a close adherence to the letter and the first found word too often contents him if in sound and semblance it approaches the Castilian. Shelton translates "trance" by "trance" where the context obviously demands "emergency" as in "all the trances of warfare" and "this unexpected trance." Similarly he translates "sucesos" by "successes" and "talente" by "talent" which make no sense. Again he writes "they tortured the prisoner who confessed his delight," the word thus translated being "delito." It is not necessary to know Spanish if one has a slight acquaintance with Latin to recognise this word as "crime." This treatment of everyday words our guide describes as a "tendency to the servile-exact or a crazy prepossession;" "anxious haste--fine nonechalence; frolicsome humour; and impetuous fidelity."

Here is a writer who, if we are to take his dedicatory letter seriously as does our critic, was able to translate some 550 pages of Spanish in forty days making mistakes of the most elementary kind. On the other hand he remarks that the owls of pedantry have bitterly resented his juggles with a gerund; and the arrogant disdain for them and theirs. "He brought to the execution of his enterprise an endowment and a temperament such as no later rival could pretend to boast." "He owned an alert intelligence, a perfect sympathy for his author's theme and a vocabulary of extreme wealth and rarity. Moreover before and above these things he was an Elizabethan, a contemporary of Shakespeare's nurtured on the marrow of lions, and blessed with the clear accent of that spacious age. His language is ever fitted to the incident . . . he despatches his phrase with address and vigour, the atmosphere of the book is his own."

"It were too much to say that so had Cervantes written in English; but equity demands the admission that his manner is more nearly attained by Shelton than by any successor." "He is never lacking in a shrewd equivalent for an idiomatic phrase." "Cervantes abounds not greatly in purple passages but where the Castilian original affords the occasion Shelton rarely fails to seize and match it. So with infinite felicity of phrase and setting, with sustained sonority and splendour in passages of uncommon majesty he continues his deliverance of a classic masterpiece of Spain."

Who then is this Shelton of whom Fitzmaurice-Kelly can write in such glowing terms and of whom no one has heard before or since? And how reconcile this brilliance with the petty childish mistakes recorded above? Surely not by ascribing to him a tendency to servile exactness or even merely a frolicsome humour, though that indeed may be part of the explanation. Have we not here the deliberate intention of the writer to make the reader think he is reading a translation as he had stated it to be while the vigour and freshness of the work as a whole point in the opposite direction? It is indeed possible that these are a few retranslations from the Spanish fathered by Cervantes on to the world whether the Spanish text as a whole was the work of Cervantes or another Spanish scholar.

It seems that Cervantes' most successful work, if for the moment we exclude Don Quixote was in his Novelas ExemphIares. Is it not possible that some of the supplementary stories in Don Quixote, not all brilliantly successful it would seem, were Cervantes' own work, thus justifying to some extent a claim for his authorship and so satisfying his amour propre? Shelton too would thus be in part a translator from the Spanish. If, as is asserted above, our 1612 edition of Shelton is more closely aligned with the Brussels version of 1607 than with the Madrid text of 1605 and that both of them derived from Shelton, it would seem that there must have been an earlier script of Shelton which we do not now possess on which the Madrid text was based.

There are other puzzles and obscurities at the solution of which we can at present only guess. The change by Shelton of La Mancha into Aethiopia, the statement that Cid Hamet was an "Arabical" Manchegan are some of these. Fitzmaurice-Kelly writes, "nor do his (Shelton's) embellishments stop here. After writing about a number of Knights Errant of foreign lands, Shelton's patience is vanquished and in a fine burst of patriotism he strikes a blow for England with the splendid interpolation of Sir Bevis of Hampton, Sir Guy of Warwicke, Sir Eglemore with divers others of that nation and age."

Again we ask who is this servile exact translator, this Shelton?

Having considered the problems which the First Part of Don Quixote presents we turn to the Second Part with some wonder as to what it may tell us. Again we meet doubts and difficulties. The first part has proved extremely popular not only in Spain but in the outer world. Nine editions were published in Spain alone; Cervantes promised on several occasions that there should be a sequel and it would seem that it should win both fame and money for the author. For the next eight years Cervantes produced little of note. There were many requests for more Quixotisms but as Fitzmaurice-Kelly says, the Knight and his Squire seemed to hang heavy on their creator's hands and he played the stepfather with perfection. Other less important work claimed his first attention. At last in 1614, nine years after the issue of Part 1, a spurious sequel appeared as a small quarto under the name of Avellaneda of whom to this day nothing is known. This book seems to have been of some merit and considerable vogue.

Whether by design or not, this publication acted as a spur to Cervantes for in the following year he produced the genuine Second Part. He was now sixty-eight years old and the surprising thing is that this second part is held to be the equal or even superior to the First in many ways. In the following year he died. He seems to have derived little financial benefit from the proceeds of the most noted book in Spain.

In England the so-called Shelton version of the second part was published in conjunction with a fresh edition of Part 1 in 1620, the dedication being signed by Edward Blount who entered the First for registration at Stationers' Hall in 1611. Although Shelton's name does not appear in connection with Part 2 the critics seem to be satisfied from its style and from the recurrence of the same mistakes as occurred in Part 1 that it is certainly by the same hand.

Part 2 in Spanish was licensed for the press in Madrid on November 5th, 1615, and on December 5th, 1615, Edward Blount registered his copy, The Second Part of Don Quixote, and paid the fee of vjd. It would clearly be impossible for the Spanish text to be brought to England, translated and printed in a month.

On this Fitzmaurice-Kelly states that this copy was "unquestionably" Avellaneda's counterfeit published in 1614. When such assertions are made it is wise to examine them with care. It was natural, of course, for Fitzmaurice-Kelly to assume, as at first sight most people would, when no question had been raised as to Cervantes' status in the matter, that this must be the only possible explanation but when this status is called in question the matter takes on a different aspect and calls for further examination. By implication, if not explicitly Fitzmaurice-Kelly admits that Blount paid no fee for the registration of Shelton's version of the genuine Second Part other than that recorded on December 5th, 1615, which he asserts was paid for a translation of Avellaneda's book. He attributes the avoidance of paying a further fee to "frugality" on the part of Blount. In effect this is an aspersion on the character of Blount whose name stands high among the publishers of that time, being associated with Jaggard as printer of the First Folio of the Shakespeare Plays. He further states that no translation of Avellaneda's counterfeit is known. He explains this by suggesting that the enterprise was dropped when the authentic work appeared in Madrid. This seems a very tame explanation even if it were possible to make one registration serve for two different books. It may be asked why Blount should register a book in 1615 which did not appear until 1620. This could be explained by the desire to secure priority as soon as he was assured that the Spanish Second Part was ready to appear as he would know if he were in collaboration with Cervantes. Moreover some delay in publication would be desirable if the inverted relation with Cervantes were to be concealed successfully. Clearly these facts leave much room for speculation: as Fitzmaurice-Kelly himself says, "the curious Reader draws his own inferences from indubitable facts." He himself seems to sense some difficulty. Why for instance does he say of the suggestion that the author of Don Quixote himself corrected the Madrid edition of l608 that it is a "wanton fable and dangerous deceit?"

As an example of Shelton's style Fitzmaurice-Kelly quotes Don Quixote's defence of Knight Errantry from Part 2, chapter 22, "is it happily a vain plot or time ill-spent to range through the world, not seeking its dainties, but the bitterness of it, whereby good men aspire to the seat of immortality? If your Knights, your Gallants, or Gentlemen should call me, 'Coxecombe,' I should have held it for an affront irreparable; but that your poor scholars account me a madman, that never trod the paths of Knight Errantry, I care not a chip. A Knight I am, a Knight I'll die if it please the most Highest. Some, go by the spacious field of proud ambition, others by the servile way of base flattery, a third sort by deceitful hypocrisy and few by that of true religion. But I by my starres inclination go in the narrow path of Knight Errantry; for whose exercise I despise wealth but not honour. I have satisfied grievances, rectified wrongs, chastised insolencies, overcome Gyants, triumphed over sprites and I am enamoured only because there is necessity Knights Errant should be so, and though I be so, yet am I not of those vicious amourists but of your chaste Platonics. My intentions always aim at a good end, to do good to all men and to hurt none." Fitzmaurice well says: "So Shelton manifests himself an exquisite in the noble style, an expert in the familiar and with such effect as no man has matched in England."

Whose is this pen? Whose is this thought?


The Thomas Shelton text of Don Quixote 1605