Don Quixote is but the final name of the ingenuous knight of La Mancha. In Chapter One of his book, it is set forth that he was known as Quijada, Quesada or Quejana. Four chapters later a worker in the neighboring fields addresses him as Quijana and as such he made his will at the end of his last journey. His Christian name was Alonso. Quixote (Quijote in modern Castilian) was the choice of the old man himself. And as Cervantes gives him birth, he is old—old for his fifty years in a frustrated Manchegan village. He is noble but poor. He is an eater of cheap meats. He is a cadaverous, lantern-jawed, brittle-boned, deep-eyed fellow. His naked house, one room of which is stocked with the chivalric books that have sucked his substance and addled his slight brains, is cared for by an old nurse and a young niece. There is as well a boy servant who disappears from the tale after the first chapter. Doubtless Cervantes meant to employ him as Don Quixote’s squire: but when the independent knight after his first sally made choice of Sancho Panza, there was naught left for the poor mozo; so that he fades away. There is, of course, in Don Quixote’s stable a half-starved nag* After four days of meditation on such names as Bucephalus and Babieca, (the stallion of the Cid), Quixote christens his jade Rocinante. Rocin means hack horse: wherefore Don Quixote meant that his mount was before all the other hacks of the world.
This detail, appearing in the first chapter of the Book, might give the canny reader pause. “Why,” he might ask, “if the deluded eyes—as we are told—of Don Quixote saw his hack equal to the steeds of Amadis or King Alexander, did he christen him with a name so comical and so revealing?” The reader will be aware of a curious shift in this Don Quixote’s madness: a note of self-conscious irony, not usually found in the insane upon the point of their mania. However, this strange madman to whom Cervantes introduces us seems at first consistently the creation of his author. A poverty-struck Manchegan, finding his treeless world too empty for his senses, lets them roam in a realm of knights-errant, ogres, fairies, virgins, until his senses are strayed. Whereupon, deeming himself a Roland or an Amadis, he buckles on his rusty sword, takes his nag from the stall and sallies forth into a Spain sordidly realistic, sick of heroes, to perform adventures. He cuts a ridiculous figure. And his fate is what a sane man might expect. He is unhorsed, drubbed, pounded. He loses teeth as his molested countrymen lose tempers. The ladies he meets are foul-breathed wenches; the lord of the Castle in which he takes his rest wants his pay, being indeed the keeper of an inn. His battles are with goats, sheep, windmills and Biscayan servants. It is clear that some day his madness will discomfit him entire. At which time he will be forced to return to his poor house where the good nurse and the niece will staunch his wounds, bathe the dust from his eyes and put him to bed. Meantime, there is the tale to tell—with much laughter—of his absurd adventures. Cervantes wishes to mock this medieval scarecrow jousting against the Modern. His fellow Spaniards, sick like himself of gestures and heroics, will roar along—will pay redes for the book—will put money in the purse of a hungry scribbler.
This Don Quixote, child of Cervantes, is the subject of the early chapters. And now a fundamental difference sets in, marking off this character from others. Most literary creations remain their maker’s. As he willed, modelled, developed them, so they live—or die. This is true in great books. The evolution of the hero is explicit in the poet’s mind or at least in the action’s threshold. But for the analogue to Don Quixote we must go to biology, rather than to art. The mother forms the baby in her womb. It is organically hers, and so for a brief time remains. But she has endowed it with a principle which will make her child recede ever more from being her creation. This inner life, seeking substance in the objective world both of sense and of impression, becomes itself. The mother has created a babe,—only to lose it. Such is the fate of Don Quixote with Cervantes. From the womb of his will and fancy comes the child. But Don Quixote is no sooner set on earth, than he proceeds by an organic evolution, by a series of accretions and responses, to change wholly from the intent of his author—to turn indeed against him. He does not lose contact with his source. The man is child of his own childhood and of his parents in a deeper way than any conscious, biologic pattern. But above all, the child becomes himself. He has transcended vastly the amorphous thing lodged in his mother’s womb. So Don Quixote is transfigured beyond the sprightly scheme and function of his maker.
He was conceived and formed, as a broken writer’s bitter turning against his heroic soul and his heroic age: he becomes the Body of sublime acceptance—the triumphant symbol of what his misfortunes were to mock. Cervantes has no firm hold on Don Quixote. And this is plain almost from the outset in the fact that the Manchegan knight, despite his author’s assurance, is not mad. We had an inkling of this already in the too conscious, too ironic naming of Rocinante. Soon the proofs multiply; for the clown-blows that continue to rain upon Don Quixote in Part One cannot hold him from his organic growth. With Part Two, written ten years later, the blows and buffets are less frequent. Cervantes has had time to catch up with and to accept his son.
In the matter of the selecting of a Lady (that needed spur of every true knight-errant) it is clear that Don Quixote knows the facts about Aldonza Lorenzo, wench daughter of Lorenzo Cochuelo of El Toboso. Quite consciously, he turns her into the divine Dulcinea whom henceforth he will worship. This he makes his “truth”: there is no evidence that the fact of the girl is ever hidden from him. He needs a helmet—indeed he needs Mambrino’s magic helmet. A barber comes, riding an ass and on his head (for it is raining) a copper bleeding-dish. This is the golden helmet of Mambrino; and as such Don Quixote takes it. But in the parley before and after, with Sancho Panza, it is plain that the knight accepts Sancho’s fact about the dish: he merely turns it, for his own purpose, into his knightly “truth.”
In the Sierra Morena, Don Quixote resolves to follow a great tradition. He and Sancho have reached the mountains that bar the smooth plains of La Mancha from the fluid meadows of Andalusia southward: mountains of rock flung to sky, titanic gestures of rock, pourings of cosmic might into the waste of rock. The Sierra, sudden beneath La Mancha, suggests delirious excess. So here, Don Quixote will have his knightly spell of penitent madness, in anguish of his absent lady love. How does he set about it? He debates the merits of two schools of madness. There was the furious way of Roland after his Angelica had slept with the Moor Medoro. And there was the wistful melancholy way of Amadis. Don Quixote is fifty: he elects the quieter madness. And he takes Sancho to witness of his straits, ere he sends him off to beseech mercy of Dulcinea. Nor is he fooled by Sancho’s meeting with the lady. The fact that Sancho has left behind him the very letter which he describes as given to Dulcinea does not disturb Don Quixote. He is not dwelling with facts, but with truths of his own making. And he tells his squire, speaking in elegiac temper of himself: “That if he did not achieve great matters, he died to achieve them; and if I am indeed not disowned and disdained by Dulcinea del Toboso, it suf-ficeth me . . . to be absent from her.” Later he meets the swine girl whom he has transfigured to be his princess. And since he speaks of the magic that makes her appear as the facts and Sancho have it—a coarse and silly female smelling of garlic—it is plain that the facts are in his mind. He is not fooled. Nor is he lying when he speaks of magic. Magic implies a radical change from customary attitude. This is the secret of the fakirs of the East. To them, literally, the Idea is more real than, and hence can subvert, the fact. Don Quixote’s attitude changes the fact of the swine girl into his truth of the princess.
He who is fooled is Sancho. For Sancho does not understand that fact and truth may be foes. He takes one for the other: hence he believes in the facts of Dulcinea’s enchantment, of the Cave of Montesino, of the Island which he is sent to govern, of the Empress whom his master is to wed. As the tale grows, poor Sancho is more and more en-mired in confusion. He is in danger of madness, when he loses his distinction between the world of shapes and this world of ideas in which Don Quixote rides.
The old knight’s progress is wilful. There is for instance the wondrous ride on Clavileno, the wooden horse in the garden of the Duke upon which the pair were wafted through heaven and hell. Sancho claims to have stolen a glimpse and to have seen them soaring through firmaments of fire. And Don Quixote answers:
“If you desire me to believe you in what you have just seen in the sky, I desire that you should believe me in what I saw within the Cave of Montesino. No need for me to say more. . . .”
He is proposing to Sancho what is neither more nor less than a deal: that his squire should accept his own distinction between a glorious truth and this drab world of facts. But Sancho’s mind has no such athleticism. He is not Ramon Lull! He has never heard of Leon Hebreo. He is forever mixing the two insoluble realms.
At last Don Quixote meets his fate. In Barcelona, having been acclaimed by crowds who laugh at him with a passionate devotion which they can never understand, he is challenged to combat by the Knight of the White Moon. He is worsted, of course: and this is his end. For the ca-ballero de la lima blanca is none other than the bachelor Sanson Carrasco. The goodly Don Antonio cannot understand this medieval nonsense in his modern seaport. Carrasco says to him:
“My lord, know that I, the bachelor Sanson Carrasco, am of the same place as Don Quixote de la Mancha, whose simplicity and madness have moved to tears all of us who know him: and among these none has wept more than I: and believing that there lay his health and peace, in that he should reside in his own land and house, I determined to return him thither; and so three months since I went upon the road as a knight-errant, calling myself el caballero de los espejoSj meaning to fight him, vanquish him without hurt, and having put as the condition of our encounter that the vanquished remain in the discretion of the victor: and what I thought to demand of him (for I judged him beforehand already vanquished) was that he should return to his home, and sally not forth from it for a whole year; in which time he might be cured: but fate ordered otherwise, for I was the defeated. I was hurled from my horse, and hence my purpose could not take effect; he went his way, and I returned, beaten, bruised, mashed by my fall which to be sure was dangerous enough; but for this I did not give up my meaning which was to seek him out once more and defeat him, as you have seen me do this day. And since he is so punctilious in all that pertains to the knight-errant, without doubt soever he will obey the command I have given him, in honor of his word. This my lord is what has passed, without my need to say another thing; I beseech you, do not discover me nor say to Don Quixote who I am, in order that these my good intentions may have effect, and that there may return to reason a man so excellent in reason, when he is left alone by the unreasons of chivalry. . .”
Carrasco reveals that his deep instinct against Don Quixote is buttressed by a shallow understanding. When the old knight found Carrasco’s face within the vizor of the defeated caballero de los espejos, he was not troubled: he knew that magic had turned the truth of the defeated warrior into the face of his neighbor, the bachelor Sanson Carrasco. Had he now been told that the knight of the white moon appeared to others as this same bachelor, he would have found a similar solution—and obeyed the knight, though his heart broke.
So now, stripped of his harness, Don Quixote with Sancho makes his ashen way home from Barcelona. But he does not yet know that he is vanquished. His word binds him for a year: thereafter, can he not sally forth again? And meantime, he need not stay idle in this gross world of facts. “If it seem well to you,” he tells his squire, “I should like that we turn pastors even for the time I am caught up.” He makes his plans. “I shall buy a few sheep and all other things needed for the pastoral life.” His friends will share this new transfiguration which has the advantage of being more sociable than the life of the knight-errant. He will become the pastor Quixotiz; Sancho will become Pancino. His wife Teresa will be called Teresona. The bachelor Carrasco will be known as Sansonino or Carra-8c6n; being a learned man, he shall take his choice. The priest (el cura) he might call, not knowing his true name, el pastor Curiambro.
These persons, being facts, must change their names ere they can enter his truthful pastoral Eden. Dulcinea remains Dulcinea: for already she is of the world of his truth. With this last lucid statement of his mind, the old man comes upon his home where soon he is to die. No more may he be a knight, dispensing Justice in a real world inhabited by such true concepts as ogres, virgins, sorcerers. Even the little interlude of pastor is denied him. He languishes; and with his strength, his creative, personal will expires.
The child returneth to the mother. Don Alonso Quijana el Bueno lies upon the death-bed and renounces Don Quixote. Again Cervantes’ child shrinks to the arms of his parent, and his parent’s will of bitter hatred and of bitter laughter encompasses him wholly. He abjures the careers of all knights-errant:
“Ya soy enemigo de Amadis de Gaula y de toda la infinita caterva de su linaje; ya me son odiosas todas las historias prof anas de la andante caballeria; ya conozco mi necedad y el peligro en que me pusieron harlas leido; ya por miseri-cordia de Dios, escarmentando en cabeza propia, las ab-omino. . . .”
* * *
Don Quixote, as he emerges pitiful and whole from the mind of his author is a man possessed, but not a madman. He is a man possessed as were the Hebrew prophets, or Jesus; as was Mohammed, as were Porphyry and Plotinus, as is any poet. . . . The difference may be subtle but it is clear beyond the logical distinctions of man’s mind. No atheist would call Amos mad, but a man possessed. To Jesus saying: “When ye have lifted up the Son of God, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself, but as my Father hath taught me,” no Jew would ascribe mere madness. Quixote is possessed of an Ideal. And since this ideal was mothered of the world struggling toward light, and since now it mothers him entire, becoming his truth and his world, Don Quixote takes his place among the broken and triumphant prophets. Even the alienist durst not call him mad, for in his enacted drama he knew his part: and the more fully sensed what he chose to call the truth, knowing its bodily difference from the facts about him.
Reality for the medieval soul was neo-platonic. The conceptual was real: all else was merely fact. The bitter apartness of Jew and Arab from Medieval Europe was due to the failure of the Semite, despite Philo and Al Gazali, to assimilate neo-platonism deeply. Plotinus, Porphyry, Augustine, and Iamblicus created the psychology of a thousand years of Europe. The real is not this world. We are snared and mired in a viscous web of appearance: all the congeries of sense in this. Knowledge obtains, not in a translating of this factual film into the real, but in the piercing of it, the abandoning it altogether. This attitude^ is not the naturalistic mysticism of the Hebrew, nor the essential mysticism of Plato; nor yet the profounder nihilism of the Hindu who recognized the unity of the ideal and the fact—interpreting one always in terms of the other. Medievalism is a child—and a childish offshoot—of all these. It declares: “There is a real world, but it is not this one. Man can reach the real world, by various means. He must crucify the fact, in order to save his soul.”
Don Quixote moves through a world neo-platonically real. He was as aware as Sancho of sheep, windmills, inns, country wenches. He chose to disregard these lies of fact. He erected a systematic symbol whereby his senses could vault the appearances about him, and deliver him the truth. Thereby, the windmill served as a giant; the sheep as enchanted armies; the empty cave of Montesino as the scene of Glory, and Moritornes the whore as the virgin lady languishing in love. He had elected to perform Justice upon earth. These giants, armies, and disasters served him as means to that end.
By a similar process, the medieval mind made all history into parable and symbol. The medieval mind is subjectivism carried to the intense conclusion made possible by the barbarous Germanic will. Philo’s allegories of the Scripture, the way of Egypt and of India with all written words, treating them as intricate and recondite symbols, obsessed the mind of medieval Europe. No act was simple, no name was simple. The world becomes a dramatic Mystery, in which each scene has its one bearing upon the central Plot: the soul’s salvation. For a thousand years, literature and art, to be serious, had to be allegory. At first the slender fact lived whole within the symbol: but the symbol grew, and waxed enormous.
The mood of medieval symbolism, while it was fathered by Plato and the Jewish commentators, is neither Greek nor Jewish. With these two adult peoples, symbolism held its place: it remained a relative and ancillary life within the mastering testimony of the world. Already in Plotinus and Saint Augustine, the balance is lost. When we are deep in the Middle Ages, we are deep in an allegoric jungle: the paths of fact are lost, and the daylight of reason.
Don Quixote’s world is medievally real. It is a hypertrophy of such births as Chivalry, Romance and Sainthood. In its character of wholeness, of deliberate triumph over fact, it springs from the fountainhead of neo-platonic thought.
But if this symphonising of the world to Quixote’s is a medieval act, the symphony’s keynote is not medieval, is not even Christian. The medieval will, myriad in its flowerings, was childishly simple in its seed: the soul’s salvation. Nothing else counted: or rather, everything had its sole significance, indeed its reality, as it bore on this monomaniac problem of each soul. That a man’s soul might be saved, all acts since Adam had been apportioned. For this, the Hebrews lived, the Prophets preached, Christ died: for this Peter builded his Church and the Jews remained outside in perpetual testimony of damnation. For this, men went on Crusades, conquered heathens, gave birth to children in holy wedlock. For this there was love and justice: for this there was life and death. But Don Quixote is no more centrally concerned with his soul’s salvation than is a Jew. He believes in his soul; he hopes it shall be saved. But his acts are motived by a far less personal will: the enacting of Justice.
Don Quixote looks upon himself as an instrument of justice. He is an embodied and a moving will of justice. The neo-platonic Christian performed justly, that he might pierce better the Phenomenal Lie and win salvation. The Anab warrior spread justice with his sword for personal reasons: that the Prophet was just and that he must serve the Prophet. The knight of the Round Table of King Arthur performed deeds of justice—rescuing the virgin, slaying the bad giant—because it was good sport and because it was his duty. But Don Quixote wills justice upon earth, because he hungers after justice, because there is naught else true save justice. If, by the sheer testimony of his words and deeds, we analyse this passion of Don Quixote, we learn that for him instinctively justice meant Unity. The world must become One: and the means thereto is justice.
The symbols with which he works are medieval Christian; his mental mechanism is neo-platonic: his knightly attitude is more Moorish than Teutonic (as contrasted with the quite German tenor of the free-booting Cid). But this part of his will is Hebrew: the parabolic line of its enactment in his life links Don Quixote ineluctably with the Prophets.
The words of God and Christ are surprisingly seldom on the old knight’s lips. He cites Roland and Amadis more often than the Saints. They, indeed, are his saints. But his God is Justice. And so impersonal, so monotheistic is He, that He lacks more than a body; almost He lacks a name. Or rather God’s body is the world: His name is Justice.
The eidolon-making Greeks said in wonder of the Jews: “They are a people who see God everywhere and localize him nowhere.” So Don Quixote created for himself a world that should consist of opportunities for enacting justice. To this end he rejects, selects and builds in the world which meets his eyes. His mind works like the instinct of an artist. But he is a peculiar sort of artist: his ethical purpose and the intensity with which his mind enlists action with vision, and makes of social fact a spiritual Word, recall the scriptural prophets. Amos too looked out on a world made wholly the action of God: and moved in Israel as flame moves in the burning wood. To Hosea, even the nature and action of his adulterous wife partook of the essence of the Lord. Every detail of the prophet’s life—even the silence and the dark, even the failure and the sin—is caught in the unity of his vision. Thus Don Quixote sets forth to perform justice. He must perform it constantly. The world must become material—a continuum of material —for his performance. But like every artist, Don Quixote must translate his vision into the accepted formulae of his mind. In his case, these formulae are the shoddy regalia of decadent knighthood. Justice is to be performed by rescuing virgins, unseating ogres, slaying giants, despiting necromancers. Don Quixote rides through Spain. Along these highways graze sheep, trudge merchants: there are inns but no castles. Don Quixote does not see the enactment of justice in such terms as these. So he transforms them.
His justice is an attempt at unity. But it is very simple. The real world of Don Quixote is no intricate entexture of hierarchic values. It is not like the mazed affluence of life which the Hindu burned into One. It has none of the deep involument of souls and states fused by Hebrew and Hellene into their God. It is a pyramid. At the base, are knights and villains, virgins and married ladies, angels, enchanters, demons, ogres. And at the pyramid’s peak is the ideal of all this homogeneous matter: freedom and liberty. This ideal is uncorrupted by any political or sectarian dogma. It is never more clear than in the adventure with the convicts. In clinking chains, this squad of scoundrels is led south by the soldiers of the King, to meet the galley in which they must serve their terms. These men are in chains: Don Quixote’s ideal of justice demands that chains be stricken off. He hears the protest of the soldiers in the name of the law: it avails not. The freed rascals repay their liberator with a shower of stones and make off with Sancho’s ass: this avails nothing. Don Quixote will not be swerved from his immaculate conception of justice.
In such episodes as these, we touch the core of the miracle of Don Quixote. His nature is ridiculously funny, and it is Christlike. This freeing of legally judged robbers, this letting of lions out of cages is comedy: and illumes a justice above laws whose vision is Christlike and whose enactment brings upon the knight a Christlike fate. In laughing at Don Quixote, we crucify him. It is mockery and buffets which create the knight of the Sorrowful Figure: our own roars of glee at his well earned mishaps hail this ridiculous Christ.
And here we swing back into the medieval. The Jesus of the synoptic gospels is a dominant unbroken man. The Passion of the Cross is a mystic interlude—probably interpolation—which rends the Temple far more than it does Jesus. His cry, about the ninth hour; “Eli, Eli, lama sa-bachthani” is a shredding weakness against the serenity and might of the historic man. Jesus in his true character is almost wholly Hebrew Prophet. With the Lord in his mouth, he is imperious, even overbearing. The Hebrew spirit is as adverse from ill-health—from martyrdom as an end-in-itself—as the Greek. But with the infantilisation of the West, with the upshowing of the childish spirit within the iron carapace of Rome, Jesus becomes pitiful. Medieval art makes him lean and ugly: asceticism from the Hindus and Egyptians mangles his body. Within the splendor of the Gothic church there lived a shrunken Christ. And as medievalism stumbled southward, the process gathered. The baroque churches of Seville are fantasmagoria of tropic wealth, writhed like a forest about the sensitive plant: Christ, milkpale, blood-spotted.
And so at the end, Don Quixote. He is laughter-spotted. Reason bespatters him and makes him comic. But since in the minds of men this reason is profane, and his mad impulse holy, he is a Christ—a medieval, an unjewish Christ.
His deeds get him into trouble. Part One abounds in buffets that unhorse him, knock out his teeth, bathe him in blood and muddy him all over. Part Two is in less rollicking mood. Cervantes has been affected by Don Quixote. But there is worse: Don Quixote, enacting justice, brings trouble to others—and to the best of them. There is the boy whom he frees from a flogging master and who is flogged the worse, in payment for the humiliation the master has suffered from Don Quixote. There is the freeing of the convicts—a menace to every household in the land. There is the freeing of the lion, to the probable disgrace of the poor keeper. Don Quixote wrecks funerals: he maims an innocent Penitent for life. He unhinges Sancho’s peace: brings an anarchy of ambition and vague ideals into the breast of this sweet clod of the earth. He visits destruction upon the unfortunate inns which he takes for castles. He robs a barber of his copper dish. He drubs good servants. He smashes the sole fortune of Maese Pedro—his set of puppets. He commits sacrilege even: plunging full-tilt upon a pilgrimage of disciplinants, breaking legs and wresting from the outraged hand of a priest an image of the Virgin.
Though he offends many and amuses more, he convinces no one. That a prophet should inspire jeers and hatred is natural: but that he should have not one true disciple? and that at the end of his mission, he should recant, himself, and call his mission folly? How can such a prophet win the love of the world?
The strong whom he encounters laugh at him. The weak flee from him. The nurse and his niece do not laugh: they weep and tear their hair for his unseemly conduct. In the bachelor Carrasco he inspires a nagging irritation. This man is common-sense incarnate: he is ill-at-ease before the irreducible vision of the artist. He goes out of his way to down him: dons the armor of folly in order to bring home the fool. This must not be construed as altruism. Carrasco pays tribute to Don Quixote, in despite of himself. It is his own peace he is after. He is aware, albeit far too rational ever to admit it to himself, that this utter idealist stalking La Mancha robs his small reality of ease. Common sense—the sense of approximation and of compromise —is fragile and is nervous. It must sequester the poet-prophet.
Perhaps the bitterest and ugliest episode in the book treats of the knight’s entertainment in the castle of the Duke and Duchess. They are the worldly-wise, the worldly-cultured, even as Carrasco is the pragmatic rampant. They take Don Quixote in; and make him a show for their own genteel delectation. They are the perpetual patron of the artist. They feed him, flatter him, serve him: everything but believe him. Their minds hold him safe from their hearts. And nowhere does the knight of the Sorrowful Figure appear so pathetic, so ridiculous, so disarmed, as under this ducal roof where he is lionized and where whole pageantries are enacted to pandar to his need of enacting justice.
Quixote survives the sophisticated salon of the Duchess and of her lecherous ladies. But while he is among them, he is shrunken. He goes forth at last, aware of the subtle poison of their praise, to seek again the adventure of justice—to be laid low by the bachelor Carrasco.
But there is his squire? are there not moments at least in which his squire is won by the spirit of the noble knight?
Sancho Panza seems to have come latterly to Cervantes. The servant boy of the first chapter who disappears and the fact that Don Quixote sallies forth for the first time without him proves this. Indeed, this loamy son of the Manchegan desert is less immediate altogether than his master, to the world illumined by Don Quixote. That treeless, sapless plain whose horizons dim beyond the eye, whose winters are blasts of ice from the north mountains, whose summers are fire from the peaks to the south, whose indeterminate panorama of details—dust, men, towns, roads—are an anarchic chaos, is the true mother of Don Quixote. The desert makes God one; makes poetry of speech. La Mancha is a frustrate desert: neither waste nor garden. Don Quixote transfigures its inns and sordid villages, its hard-fist peasants and its heavy girls, into a ruthless psychic unity, much as the son of the true desert drew its magnificent horizons and its breastlike slopes into the body of God. But how in this world was Sancho Panza born? For not Falstaff of verdant England is more robustly gay, not Panurge of luxuriant France more subtly sensuous.
Sancho is wholly the creation of Cervantes. Don Quixote, born of his author, outgrew him. Sancho grows organically. Contact with his master determines this. But nonetheless he lies ever full within Cervantes’ will: he is the sheer miraculous birth of gaiety from the desert of Cervantes’ life.
To Sancho, the “phenomenal” world, the world of facts is everything. Since he conceives no other, and since his master continuously lives within another of his own conceiving, Sancho is held busy translating into factual terms the entire adventure which he rides with Don Quixote. Sancho’s point of view adds comedic perspective to the story. And since Cervantes’ elementary will was to laugh, he could not have done without the squire: the squire indeed, is the full body of Cervantes’ conscious purpose. Every act and every word of Don Quixote has a dimension which Sancho cannot see: his own acts and words are constantly deforming those of his master, in his effort to adjust to what he sees.
A vertiginous effort it is, and it ends by making Sancho more nearly mad than his knight. He believes factually in his Island. He believes himself its governor, though he has crossed no water to attain it. The maid who is to wed Don Quixote after he has gone to Africa to slay her foe is to him factually the Princess Micomocomas. This enchantment must be a fact, like the one which befell Dulcinea, turning her into the wench Aldonza. Sancho vacillates forever between the credulity and the skepticism of the literal mind: ignorance is so clearly the matrix of his sanity that the delusions of his master become wise by contrast. There are no dimensions to his thinking. Don Quixote is mad— or he is a true knight-errant: the adventure is wild,—or there will be a veritable island.
His dominant impulse, either way, is appetite. Greed makes him doubt: greed makes him trust his master. Yet underneath, there works subtly upon Sancho a sweeter influence: his indefeasible respect for Don Quixote. Howsoever he argue, howsoever clear he see, howsoever he sicken from constant thumpings and sparse earnings, howsoever wry the pleasures of his Island, Sancho cannot altogether free himself from the dominion of an idealising will which he can never understand. In a directer way (since he is no intellectual) than that of Sanson Carrasco, he is held and haunted by Don Quixote. When he is absent from his master he is lost. When in a scene that goes deeper than the pathos of two quarreling lovers, Don Quixote gives him leave to depart home promising him reward for his past service, Sancho bursts into tears and vows that he cannot forsake him.
He loves his master. Not appetite alone, or if, so, the hankering after an unadmitted grandeur, holds him astride his dappled ass to follow Don Quixote to the sea. And yet, he despises him; and he betrays him. He judges him, and he exploits him. He makes sure of his reward in Don Quixote’s will, but he gives up the comfort of his wife to follow him through ridiculous dangers. He is this sensual, lusty, greedy oaf of the soil. And he is Cervantes, himself: Cervantes who followed Don Quixote to laugh and to mock—and who remained to love.
For this is the crux of the matter. Cervantes accepts Don Quixote. Therefore, we accept him. Cervantes builds up these countless reasons for rejecting him: the havoc wrought by his acts, the shoddy stuff of his dream, the addled way of his brain. It avails naught. Cervantes ends with love. And we—the more humbly in that we too have mocked and roared—avow our veneration.
Of such stuffs is made the holiness of Don Quixote: mildewed notions, slapstick downfalls. We laugh at his unfitness to impose his dream upon a stubborn world: we see well enough that Rocinante is a nag and the knight himself, helmeted with a dish, a gimcrack fellow. And we accept, in order that he may live this doggerel, the disruption of inns, the discomfiture of pilgrims, the routing of funerals, the breaking of bones!
Cervantes tries to snuff out once for all the aspiring hunger of his soul. Don Quixote is bemuddied and deformed, because not the world alone, our own will, our own reason bemuddy and deform God’s spirit in us. But Don Quixote lives: and his chief enemy—Cervantes—gives him his blood and his passion.
Of similar stuffs, of just such commingling of folly and cruelty and fun, is the divinity of Life. We behold in this book the pitiful texture of man’s mind, the ephemera of his doglma, the dullness of fact—and the Revelation like a flame from rubbish, that rises when the human will is wedded to a Dream. . . .