The Exemplary Novels of Cervantes/Preface

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PREFACE

 


It seems to be generally admitted that in rendering the title of a book from one language into another, the form of the original should be retained, even at the cost of some deviation from ordinary usage. Cicero's work De Officiis is never spoken of as a treatise on Moral Duties, but as Cicero's Offices. Upon the same principle we have not entitled the following collection of tales, Instructive or Moral; though it is in this sense that the author applied to them the epithet exemplares, as he states distinctly in his preface. The Spanish word exemplo, from the time of the archpriest of Hita and Don Juan Manuel, has had the meaning of instruction, or instructive story.

The "Novelas Exemplares" were first published in 1613, three years before the death of Cervantes. They are all original, and have the air of being drawn from his personal experience and observation. Ticknor, in his "History of Spanish Literature," says of them, and of the "Impertinent Curiosity," inserted in the first part of Don Quixote:

—"Their value is different, for they are written with different views, and in a variety of style greater than he has elsewhere shown; but most of them contain touches of what is peculiar in his talent, and are full of that rich eloquence and of those pleasing descriptions of natural scenery which always flow so easily from his pen. They have little in common with the graceful story-telling spirit of Boccaccio and his followers, and still less with the strictly practical tone of Don Juan Manuel's tales; nor, on the other hand, do they approach, except in the case of the 'Impertinent Curiosity,' the class of short novels which have been frequent in other countries within the last century. The more, therefore, we examine them, the more we shall find that they are original in their composition and general tone, and that they are strongly marked with the original genius of their author, as well as with the more peculiar traits of the national character,—the ground, no doubt, on which they have always been favourites at home, and less valued than they deserve to be abroad. As works of invention, they rank, among their author's productions, next after Don Quixote; in correctness and grace of style they stand before it.... They are all fresh from the racy soil of the national character, as that character is found in Andalusia, and are written with an idiomatic richness, a spirit, and a grace, which, though they are the oldest tales of their class in Spain, have left them ever since without successful rivals."

The first three tales in this volume have merely undergone the revision of the editor, having been translated by another before he was engaged on the work. For the rest he alone is responsible.

W.K.K.