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more the case where the writer is a known historical figure and association and affection gather round the man as well as round his work. Take such a figure as Virgil. How much there is in his voice for us which there could not be for Augustus or Horace ! To our ears he brings memories of the magician of mediaeval legend ; of the companion of Dante through Hell and Purgatory ; of the passionate admiration of the Renaissance scholars ; of that different admiration of the age of 6 correctness ’ which is summed up in Voltaire's 'Homère a fait Virgile, dit-on : si cela est, c'est son meilleur ouvrage'; of later devotion such as Edward FitzGerald's outburst after speaking of the indecency of Catullus : 'Oh my dear Virgil never fell into that : he was fit to be Dante's companion beyond even Purgatory’; and Tennyson's magisterial tribute :
I salute thee, Mantovano,
I that loved thee since my day began,
Ever moulded by the lips of man. Or take Shakespeare. Does the worship of three centuries make no difference to our thought of him to-day ? Don't we sometimes, as we read him, remember the love and honour, on this side idolatry' of one great man who was very unlike him, and the 'wonder and astonishment' of a still greater who was still more unlike ? Do not some of us remember that he was the closet companion' of Charles I in the 'solitudes of his last days '? And can any of us forget the praises that have been lavished or the light that has been thrown on him by that long line of masters of criticism which stretches from Dryden through Johnson and Goethe and Coleridge and Lamb to the great interpreter of our own day, Mr. A. C. Bradley ?
All these things, and a thousand others, have now entered into Shakespeare and become, as it were, a part of him. And as with Shakespeare so with Cervantes. To his own
day he was the writer of the only great novel they knew, of a book which they must have felt to be the herald of a new kind of literature. And something of that we feel still. It is not so very long ago that Macaulay called Don Quixote 'certainly without any question the greatest novel in the world'. And in the generation after Macaulay, FitzGerald, who when he was right in his critical instincts was so with a sort of rightness unknown to Macaulay, called Don Quixote 'the most delightful of all books ', and once wrote from his little sailing-boat : 'I have had Don Quixote, Boccaccio and my dear Sophocles (once more) for company on board : the first of these so delightful that I got to love the very Dictionary in which I had to look out the words.' And now to-day one of the finest of living critics 1 has just gone so daringly far as to call Don Quixote the wisest and most splendid book in all the world'. In absolute praise, then, of the book in itself, critics of to-day can almost outbid its contemporaries. And how much they possess over and above the book in itself! For them and for us all it now carries all the associations of its many children: such as Butler's Hudibras, so witty for a few pages, so tedious after more than a few, because so confined to the controversy of a particular moment and therefore bound to pay the penalty which has nearly always to be paid for a prodigiously successful catching of some passing temper of a man's own generation : or, again, the Pickwick of Dickens, which so closely resembles its original not only in having for its chief actors a romantic master and a common-sense servant, but also in the curious fact that both Cervantes and Dickens began with the intention of creating a merely ridiculous figure, fell in love with their creations and turned their fools into something like heroes.
All these and other associations separate us from the 1 No longer living, alas! It was Sir Walter Raleigh, in a very y remarkable article which appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, 27th April 1916.
point of view of the original readers. And there are other changes both of loss and gain. Take the loss first. The first readers of Don Quixote found it above all things extremely amusing. There is a story of Philip III which illustrates this. It is said that he was one day on the balcony of his palace at Madrid when he noticed a student on the banks of the Manzanares 'reading in a book and from time to time breaking off and knocking his forehead with the palm of his hand, with great tokens of delight'; upon which the king said to those about him 'That scholar is either mad or he is reading Don Quixote'. Uncontrollable happiness of laughter was then the accepted result of reading the book. And no doubt to-day only a blockhead can read it without continual amusement. But those who are now overcome by laughter as they read it must be few. Comedy is always of far shorter life than tragedy because it deals so much more with manners which are always changing and so much less with the ultimate things of character which never change. It is only with the help of a commentator that we can catch the point of half the jokes of Aristophanes. So we cannot expect a book which satirized Spanish manners of the sixteenth century to be as amusing to us as it was to Spaniards of that day.
Then those first readers found it, what many to-day will hardly find it, a very exciting book. They could not put it down. There are few things in which the world is more changed than in this matter. In the Middle Ages the interminable legends' of chivalry were considered exciting stories, and a person who arrived at a castle with a rambling poem twenty thousand lines long, which he proposed to recite, was a welcome guest received with joy and honour. It is impossible, I suppose, to exaggerate the boredom of life in a mediaeval castle, at any rate for the women, who can often have had nothing whatever to do except to attend mass and contemplate the slow progress of some vast piece of needlework or tapestry. No doubt they had those eternal resources of gossiping and quarrelling of which no one can deprive even the most abject of slaves. But they are of all times and countries and cannot be brought in to save mediaeval life from Mr. Ker's reproach of a horror of infinite flatness'. So it is not surprising that things were found exciting then which we scarcely find exciting now. * There is nothing ', says Brunetière, ‘so like one chanson de geste as another chanson de geste.' But that was not the experience of their first readers, or, if it was, the readers did not mind. We do not find the Roman de la Rose an exciting study : but, according to Mr. Saintsbury, it was the most popular book in the world for two centuries. And this capacity for digesting the indigestible lasted to and beyond the time of Cervantes. The Elizabethan English delighted not only in the Arcadia, which is not exactly crowded with incident, but in things like the Euphues of Lyly, whose story is only, I am told, the fringe of an educational treatise. So, and much more, the French contemporaries of Cervantes delighted in the ten volumes of D'Urfé's Astrée, and their children and grandchildren were, like Madame de Sévigné, entranced with the interminable romances of La Calprenède and Mademoiselle de Scudéri. All these continued the tradition of heroic ', or otherwise fanciful, unreality. And it was into their world that Don Quixote was born.
No wonder, then, that it was found exciting. The long history of the romance of adventure had taken a great step forward. The adventures may still be absurd but the characters who meet with them have suddenly come alive. Don Quixote and his Squire, for all the strange world they move in, are the most human of human beings. And so the book has been utterly and permanently victorious, not only over the old books of chivalry which it set out to kill and killed, but over its contemporary rivals which nobody reads to-day.
But it is still a book of impossible adventures which cannot
excite us as it excited its first readers. Indeed, if once we cease to be amused by its humour and charmed by its humanity, we are in danger of being wearied by its improbability and by a certain monotony which its best lovers can hardly deny.
So far we are losers : its original readers found in it qualities which we can no longer find, at least in such fullness as they found. And we have lost the actuality of its satire upon the books of chivalry which they knew well and we do not know at all : just as we have lost Virgil's Roman faith and pride in Rome and the Psalmist's satisfaction in throwing stones at Amalekites and Philistines.
But these losses have their compensations. There are things which we have not lost, which we not only share with the original readers but possess in even greater abundance. They were no doubt at once conscious that a book which pleased people of all ages and conditions must be a good book. When Cervantes wrote the Second Part he was able without fear of contradiction to say of the First:
children turn its leaves, young people read it, grown men understand it, old people praise it'. The test is not infallible till it has been ratified by time : till semper has been added to ubique and ab omnibus. But it is the least fallible we have. The gravest of English poets has said emphatically that the law of art is pleasure. And people less serious than Wordsworth are certain to say the same thing. We are all ready to subscribe to so agreeable a doctrine as the 'necessity of poets giving, and our receiving, immediate pleasure', and to enjoy Molière's triumph over the fools who found fault with him for breaking the rules : ‘je voudrais bien savoir si la grande règle de toutes les règles n'est pas de plaire.' And we and Molière and Wordsworth are as right as we can be. Only we cannot be right, absolutely and finally, till Wordsworth's 'immediate' has become permanent and Molière's pleasure of an evening has lasted for