Page:The Harvard Classics Vol. 51; Lectures.djvu/241

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231
PROSE FICTION

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.


LITERARY ACTIVITY OF CERVANTES

Back in Spain, he may have engaged again in military service for a brief period, but, at all events, by 1584 he had entered seriously upon a literary career, for in this year he had completed his pastoral romance, "Galatea." This is a work of little merit, being as unnatural and tedious in its treatment of the life of shepherds and shepherdesses as are the many native and foreign works of its kind; yet, occasionally it does betray some real emotion, and it is thought to have brought to a happy termination his courtship of Catalina de Palacios. A man without private means, now facing the exigencies of married life, Cervantes conceived the idea of supplying his needs by providing plays for the Spanish stage, which was already entering upon its age of glory. The idea was a bad one, for of the more than a score of pieces composed by him at this time not one was either a dramatic or a financial success. Defeated in this purpose, he was fain to fall back upon the meager salary which he gained as a minor officer of the Royal Treasurer, for during some years after 1587 he was engaged in collecting provisions for the royal forces or in extracting taxes from reluctant subjects of the king. The sober facts at our command would incline us to believe that Cervantes was leading a life of misery. No doubt he was, but in spite of this he was constantly producing lyric effusions in praise of one or another friend, or celebrating this or that event. Once for all be it said that as a lyric poet Cervantes occupies quite a minor rank; his verses are rarely imaginative or sprightly, and now and then, as when he strikes the solemn note, does he rise to any great poetic height. But Cervantes was not only versifying during all this time that he was meeting with misfortune in carrying out the duties of