Sunday, October 9, 2011

Happy Birthday, Miguel

"Some hundreds of years ago there was born in one of the southern peninsulas of Europe a man whose life was very like the life of a boy in one of Mr. [G. A.] Henty's books. He did everything that could possibly be expected of a boy's hero; he ran away to sea; he was trusted by admirals with important documents; he was captured by pirates; he was sold as a slave. Even then he did not forget the duties of a Henty hero. He made several picturesque and desperate attempts at escape, scaling Moorish walls and clambering through Moorish windows. He confronted the considerable probability of torture, and defied it. But he was not like the unscrupulous prison-breakers, like Cellini or Casanova, ready to break the world as well as the wall, or his promise as well as his prison. He remembered that he was the hero of an honest boy's story, and behaved accordingly.

"Long afterwards his country collected the depositions of the other Christian captives, and they were an astonishing chorus. They spoke of this man as if he were a sort of saint, of the almost unearthly unselfishness with which he divided their distresses and defied their tormentors...And in all [the] still horror of heat and sleep [of the Turkish prison], the one unconquered European still leaping at every outlet of adventure or escape; climbing a wall as he might a Christian apple tree, or calling for his rights as he might in a Christian inn.

"Nor did our hero miss that other great essential of the schoolboy protagonist; which is accidental and even improbable presence on a tremendous historical occasion...Here also my hero in real life equalled any of the heroes of juvenile fiction; for he was present and took an active part in one of the most enormous and earth-changing events in history.

"This was the great battle of Lepanto, and of course our hero was there, sword in hand; of course he was wounded there. I can fancy him standing on the deck, with his arm in a sling and looking at the slender escape of Europe and the purple wreck of Asia with a sad, crooked smile on his face. For he was a person whose face was capable of expressing both pity and amusement. His name was Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, commonly called Cervantes. And having another arm left, he went home and wrote a book called Don Quixote, in which he ridiculed romance and pointed out the grave improbability of people having any adventures."

--from "The True Romance," by G. K. Chesterton.

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