Thursday, February 25, 2010

Don Quixote on the Decoration of the Soul

The following are the "First Series of Instructions" which Don Quixote gives his squire, Sancho Panza, before Sancho leaves to become governor of the imaginary Barataria island. Great posts and offices of state, Don Quixote says, are a profound "gulph" of confusion.

The instructions appear so late in Book II that some readers of Don Quixote overlook these words of wisdom. Though Don Quixote is giving these instructions to Sancho, I can't help but think that he's also addressing the readers of the novel.

Translation by Tobias Smollett

"In the first place, O my son, you are to fear God: the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; and, if you are wise you cannot err.

"Secondly, you must always remember who you are, and endeavour to know yourself; a study of all others the most difficult. This self-knowledge will hinder you from blowing yourself up like the frog, in order to rival the size of the ox: if, therefore, you succeed in this learning, the consideration of thy having been a swineherd, will, like the peacock's ugly feet, be a check upon thy folly and pride." "I own I once kept hogs, when I was a boy," said Sancho; "but, after I grew up, I apprehended, that matter is not of great consequence; for, all governors are not descended from the kingly race." "No, sure," answered the knight; "and, for that reason, those who are not of noble extraction, ought to sweeten the gravity of their function, with mildness and affability; which, being prudently conducted, will screen them from those malicious murmurs that no station can escape. Rejoice, Sancho, in the lowness of your pedigree, and make no scruple of owning yourself descended from peasants: for, no body will endeavour to make you blush for that of which they see you are not ashamed: and value yourself more upon being a virtuous man of low degree, than upon being a proud sinner of noble birth: innumerable are those, who, from an humble stock, have risen to the pontifical and imperatorial dignity; a truth which I could prove by so many examples that you would not have patience to hear them.

"Take notice, Sancho, if you choose virtue for your medium, and pique yourself upon performing worthy actions, you will have no cause to envy noblemen and princes; for, blood is heredity, but virtue is acquired; consequently, this last has an intrinsic value which the other does not possess.

"This being the case, as undoubtedly it is, if peradventure any one of your relations should come to visit you in your island, you must not discountenance and affront him, but, on the contrary, let him be kindly received and entertained; and, in so doing, you will act comfortably to the will of heaven, which is displeased at seeing its own handywork despised; and, perform your duty to the well concerted rights of nature.

"If you send for your wife, and, indeed, those who are concerned in governing, ought not to be long without their helpmates, take pains in teaching, improving, and civilizing her: for, all that a sagacious governor can acquire, is very often lost and squandered by a foolish, rustic wife.

"If, perchance, you should become a widower, (a circumstance that may possibly happen) and have it in your power to make a more advantageous match, you must not choose such a yokefellow as will server for an angling hook, fishing rod, or equivocating hood: for, verily, I say unto thee, all that a judge's wife receives must be accounted for at the general clearance, by the husband, who will repay fourfold after death, what he made no reckoning of during life.

"Never conduct yourself by the law of your own arbitrary opinion, which is generally the case with those ignorant people who presume upon their own self-sufficiency.

"Let the tears of the poor find more compassion in thy breast, tho' not more justice, than the informations of the rich.

"Endeavour to investigate the truth from among the promises and presents of the opulent, as well as from the sighs and importunities of the needy.

"When equity can, and ought to take place, inflict not the whole rigour of the law upon the delinquent; for, severity is not more respected than compassion, in the character of a judge.

"If ever you suffer the rod of justice to be bent a little, let it not be warped, by the weight of corruption, but the vowels of mercy.

"If ever you should have an opportunity to judge the process of your enemy, recall your attention from the injury you have received, and fix it wholly upon the truth of the case.

"In another man's cause, be not blinded by private affection; for, the errors thus committed are generally incurable; or, if they admit of remedy, it will be greatly at the expense of your fortune and credit.

"If a beautiful woman should come to demand justice, withdraw your eyes from her tears, and your hearing from her sighs, and deliberate at a distance upon the substance of her demand, unless you have a mind that your reason should be overwhelmed by her complaint, and your virtue buried in her sighs.

"Abuse not him in word whom you are resolved to chastise in deed: for, to such a wretch, the pain of the punishment will be sufficient, without the addition of reproach.

"In judging the delinquents who shall fall under your jurisdiction, consider the miserable object Man, subject to the infirmities of our depraved nature; and, as much as lies in your power, without injury to the contrary party, display your clemency and compassion: for, although all the attributes of God are equally excellent, that of mercy has a better effect in our eye, and strikes with greater luster than justice.

"If you observe, and conduct yourself by these rules and precepts, Sancho, your days will be long upon the face of the earth: your fame will be eternal, your reward complete, and your felicity unutterable: your children will be married according to your wish; they and their descendants will enjoy titles; you shall live in peace and friendship will all mankind: when your course of life is run, death will overtake you in an happy and mature old age, and your eyes will be shut by the tender and delicate hands of your posterity; in the third or fourth generation.

"The remarks I have hitherto made, are documents touching the decoration of your soul; and, now you will listen to those that regard the ornaments of the body."

Note by Don Jaime: And these ornaments of the body are so wonderful indeed that they deserve a new chapter.