Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra, a Spanish author, born at Alcala de Henares, Oct. 9, 1547, died April 23, 1616. His father was descended from an ancient Galician family, and his mother was a gentlewoman of refinement. Cervantes received the first rudiments of education from Lope de Hoyos, who published collections of poetry, to which his pupil, who early displayed a talent for poetical composition, contributed. One of these contributions, a pastoral poem entitled Filena, obtained some reputation, and attracted the attention of Cardinal Acquaviva, who in 1509 invited the young poet to accompany him to Rome. But the monotony of ecclesiastical life was little calculated to please Cervantes, and he joined in 1571 the armament commanded by Don John of Austria against the Turks. In the battle of Lepanto (Oct. 7, 1571) he received a wound, which deprived him of the use of his left hand and arm for the rest of his life; but he remained in active service till 1575, when, on his way from Italy to Spain, the galley in which he sailed was captured by Algerine corsairs. He was in their power till 1580, when his relatives and friends purchased his freedom.
The whole romantic account of his captivity is found in the story of "The Captive" ("Don Quixote," part i.). He was treated with great cruelty by the Algerines, but his cheerfulness and philosophy excited the admiration of his fellow prisoners. He returned to Madrid in his 34th year, and here his literary career properly begins. The first work which he now produced was the pastoral romance Galatea, said to have been written in honor of his mistress, which showed a decided progress upon his Filena. In 1584 he married, and now had more than ever to resort to his pen to supply the wants of his family, and for three years he wrote plays for the stage, which brought him little fame and less money. In 1588 he removed to Seville, where he acted as agent of a royal commissioner of the American fleet, and afterward as collector of public and private debts. During the latter part of 1597 he was imprisoned for about three months at Seville, for a small sum due to the government. From 1598, when he seems to have left Seville, to the beginning of 1003, when we find him established at Valladolid, we lose all trace of him.
He is said to have spent the interval in La Mancha, and to have been sent there to collect rents due to a monastery; but the debtors, instead of making payment, persecuted him and threw him into prison. Here he is said to have begun "Don Quixote," laying the scene of the knight's earlier adventures in La Mancha, and making him a native of the village that treated him so ill. But no direct proof exists in support of this statement, although it is certain that he spent some time in La Mancha. We now come to the great literary performance of Cervantes. The death of Philip IE. took place in 1598, and the relief which the end of his despotic rule brought to Spain was felt also in the world of letters. Cervantes could now give free vent to his opinions. In his youth at Rome he had observed in Cardinal Acquaviva's house the character of high lite, and there, and subsequently in Spain, he was constantly brought in contact with persons eminent in church, state, and literature. With the camp and Moorish life he was thoroughly familiar, from his service in the navy and his captivity in Algiers. The mysteries of the stage, the characteristics of actors, were known to him from his career as dramatist. His frequent journeys had brought him into close contact with persons of all classes.
His occupation at Seville and La Mancha had given him new opportunities of observation. With such a world of experience, with an inexhaustible stock of humor in his disposition, and with a love of the ideal and the heroic in his heart, he produced, in the full maturity of his genius, after having passed the 50th year of his age, his imperishable "Don Quixote." The first part was published at Madrid in 1605. In this work Cervantes hit the vulnerable point of his age. The common sense of the world had long rebelled against the mummeries of knight-errantry, and the foolish books that still spoke of chivalry of which not a vestige remained. People who had smiled when the absurdity presented itself to their minds, burst out in laughter when Cervantes gave it the finishing stroke. One day Philip III. observed from his balcony a student on the opposite banks of the Manzanares convulsed with laughter over a book. "He must cither be crazy," said the king, "or he must be reading Don Quixote." This happened in 1606, after the court had removed from Valladolid to Madrid. Cervantes wrote the first part of the book probably during his residence at Valladolid, where, after his return from Seville and La Mancha, he had taken up his residence.
Although he received frequent visits from persons connected with the court and with the literary world, he was living with his wife, his two sisters, his niece, and a single female domestic, on the fourth floor of a mean house, and his pecuniary embarrassments were great. After his arrival at Madrid, while the publication of the first part of "Don Quixote " and its unprecedented success drew upon him the hostilities of those who resented the satire of his novel, he quietly occupied himself with the publication of his Novelas ejemplares, most of which had been written many years before, and of which he had already given a specimen in the story of the " Curious Impertinent," introduced in "Don Quixote." In 1G14 he published the Viage al Pamaso, a satirical work, which gives a picture of the state of Spanish literature in his time, in which he describes himself as the oldest and poorest of Spanish poets. During the same year, while he was preparing for the press the second part of " Don Quixote," a continuation of the same story was attempted by a bungling plagiarist of Tarragona, whose real or assumed name was Avellaneda. This work contained invectives against Cervantes, and was probably published at the instigation of his enemies.
The second part of "Don Quixote" made its appearance in the beginning of 1615, with a dedication to the count of Lemos, expressive of gratitude for kindnesses extended to him by the count. It was received with the same universal demonstrations of enthusiasm which had greeted the first part. Cervantes had at last gained the object of his ambition. He had the admiration of Europe, while even in Spain, as Lope do Vega was dead, there was no one to divide with him the literary empire. The sale of "Don Quixote" also relieved his pecuniary wants. Put his health began to fail, and he had a presentiment of the close of his earthly career, indicated in the preface of his Persiles y Sigismunda, a serious romance modelled after the "Theagenes and Chariclea" of Ileli-odorus, which he prepared for the press at the beginning of 1616, though it was not published until after his death in 1617 by his widow. On April 19 he dictated to his wife the following words addressed to his friend Lemos, to whom he dedicated the work: "I have my feet already in the stirrup. I may use this expression since I feel that with one foot I stand in the grave. Yesterday I received extreme unction; to-day I resume my pen.
The time is short, my sufferings grow more and more painful; my hopes grow fainter and fainter; yet I should be happy to see you before 1 die." Four days afterward he died, on the same day with Shakespeare. - Cervantes was of unusually fair complexion; his eyes were bright blue, his hair auburn. His countenance, handsome in youth, was spirited throughout his life. His manners were cheerful. He was beloved and respected in every relation of life. He possessed himself the magnanimous disposition which he ascribes to his Don Quixote; but while in the knight the sentiment degenerates into folly, it bloomed in Cervantes into a genial, witty, humorous philosophy, which made him forbearing toward his enemies and amiable to his friends. La Gitanilla is the most interesting of his Novelas ejemplares. Of his dramatic compositions, his tragedy La Nu-mancia, founded on the siege of that city, contains eloquent passages. His comedy El Trato de Argel gives a picture of Algerine life and manners, and is not destitute of interest.
His miscellaneous literary productions, whatever their merit, are almost forgotten in the triumph achieved by "Don Quixote." Yet this great man was buried without any kind of distinction in the convent of the nuns of Trinity; the spot was identified in 1870 by the marquis of Moli-no. A common tombstone marks the place to which his ashes were removed at a subsequent period. No monument was raised to his memory till 1835, when a bronze statue of him, of heroic size, was placed in the plaza del Esta-mento at Madrid; and a small bust was placed in 1834 over the door of the house in the calle de los Francos where he died. - The most splendid editions of "Don Quixote" are those which appeared in 1780 at Madrid, in 4 vols., and at Paris in 1827 (Didot, 18mo). One of the best is the Madrid academy's fourth edition (5 vols., 1819), with a biographical sketch by Navarrete. The author's complete works, excepting his comedies, appeared at Madrid in 10 vols., 1803-'5, and also another edition in 1811, which however does not include his Viage al Parnaso. Arrieta, of Paris, published in 1820-'32 a selection of his works in 10 vols. Baudry's edition (Paris, 1840-'41) gives his complete works.
A folio edition in 2 vols., profusely illustrated by Dore, was published in Paris in 1803, and in translation in London, with the plates, in 18G4. Roscoe's "Life and Writings of Cervantes" appeared in London in 1839. The most eminent German translators of "Don Quixote" are Tieck (new edition, illustrated by Dore, Berlin, 1807-8), Bertuch, and Soltau. The best English version is that of Motteux, with notes and additions by Lockhart. Among the Spanish biographers of Cervantes are Mayons y Ciscar and Pellicier; among the French biographers is Chasles (2d ed., 1866).