From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America
8.1 (1988): 118-22.
Copyright © 1988, The Cervantes Society of America
Smollett's translation of Don Quixote first appeared in London in 1755. It is historically important, for it is one of the principal versions in which Cervantes's novel was known to several generations of English and American readers. Its chief rival was its immediate predecessor, the translation by Charles Jarvis (his name appears in some editions as Jervas), which appeared in 1742, three years after the translator's death. Jarvis's translation was often reprinted throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, it was more popular than Smollett's. Mary Wagoner's checklist of Smollett's works (New York, 1984) lists more than thirty complete editions of his Don Quixote by 1839. Smollett's translation was reprinted only once more, in 1858, and then not again until its republication in 1986 by André Deutsch in England and by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the United States.
Smollett includes Cervantes's prologues to both parts, and the aprobaciones for Part II by Marqués Torres, Gutiérrez de Cetina, and Joseph de Valdivielso. He omits the aprobaciones for Part I, as well as Cervantes's dedication of Part I to the Duke of Béjar and that of Part II to the Count of Lemos. These omissions hardly lessen the value of the book to the general reader for whom it is intended, but Smollett's failure to include the burlesque verses with which Part I both begins and ends is more serious, since the verses help to shape the reader's response to the narrative enclosed within them. The omission is surprising in that Smollett, like other eighteenth-century readers but unlike many modern ones, must have regarded Don Quixote primarily as a comic work.
Carlos Fuentes's Introduction goes over familiar ground gracefully and intelligently. The English text is often awkward; readers of Cervantes will
probably prefer to consult the longer Castilian version in Fuentes's
Cervantes o la crítica de la lectura (Mexico City, 1976).
I have reservations about the wisdom of telling readers who have not yet experienced Don Quixote for themselves that we shall never know what it is that the goodly gentleman puts on his head: the fabled helm of Mambrino, or a vulgar barber's basin (p. xviii). As Richard Predmore pointed out years ago, the reader is given absolutely no reason to doubt that what Don Quixote puts on his head is indeed an ordinary barber's basin. I have similar reservations about Fuentes's assertion that Don Quixote forces many of the other characters, among them Dorotea in her role as Princess Micomicona, the Duke and Duchess, and Sansón Carrasco in his role as the Knight of the Mirrors, to enter, disguised as themselves, the immense universe of the reading of Don Quixote (p. xxii). This seems to me true only of Doña Rodríguez, of Sancho in his role as governor of Barataria, and perhaps of Sansón Carrasco. All the others remain clearly aware of the distance that separates the roles they play in their dealings with Don Quixote from their real selves.
Not everyone will share Fuentes's conviction that Américo Castro is the greatest modern interpreter of Spanish history (p. xxv), a conviction that leads him to assert that the Libro de buen amor saves and translates into Spanish the literary influences of the Caliphate of Córdoba and to call La Celestina the masterpiece of Jewish Spain. Nor will everyone agree that Don Quixote is the most Spanish of all novels. Its very essence is defined by loss, impossibility, a burning quest for identity, a sad conscience [sic, for consciousness] of all that could have been and never was, and, in reaction to this deprivation, an assertion of total existence in a realm of the imagination, where all that cannot be in reality, finds, precisely because of this factual negation, the most intense level of truth (pp. xxiii-xxiv). These are the clichés of a good deal of older Spanish Quixote criticism, with a dash of Castro added to make them more exciting.
Smollett certainly did not read Don Quixote in this way. He was writing well before the birth of that romantic approach to Cervantes's novel which, as Anthony Close has shown, has dominated Quixote criticism for the last two centuries. In a note setting forth his aims as a translator, he says that he has attempted to maintain that ludicrous solemnity and self-importance by which the inimitable Cervantes has distinguished the character of Don Quixote without raising him to the insipid rank of a dry philosopher, or debasing him to the melancholy circumstances and unentertaining caprice of an ordinary madman (p. 19).
In fact, Smollett's conviction that he was engaged in translating an essentially comic text would be hard to infer from his translation, though one gets an occasional glimpse of it in his notes. The best example is perhaps the long and heavily ironic note on duelos y quebrantos (pp. 27-28) which ends: Having considered this momentous affair with all the deliberation it deserves, we in our turn present the reader, with cucumbers, greens and pease-porridge, as the fruit of our industrious researches, being thereunto determined, by the literal signification of the text, which is not grumblings
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and groanings, as the last mentioned ingenious annotator seems to think;
but rather pains and breakings; and evidently points at such eatables as
generate and expel wind; qualities (as everybody knows) eminently inherent
in those vegetables we have mentioned as our hero's Saturday repast
(pp. 27-28). It is easy to see why Allison Peers, writing on Cervantes
in England in the Bulletin of Spanish Studies in 1947, says
that Smollett's art, though by no means despicable, was completely
unlike [Cervantes's]. His style is vigorous and hearty; his humor, broad
to the point of farce, and often extremely coarse. But Smollett's note
on the phrase he mistranslates as gripes and grumblings is quite
exceptional. His heartiness and coarseness, however evident in his own novels,
are rarely perceptible in his translation, precisely because it is on the
whole a very faithful one.
In the Preface to his English version of Ovid's Epistles (1680), John Dryden divides translations into three classes: metaphrase, paraphrase, and imitation, the freest of the three. Dryden defines metaphrase as turning an author word by word, and line by line, from one language into another. Paraphrase is translation with latitude, where the author is kept in view by the translator, so as never to be lost, but his words are not so strictly followed as his sense, and that too is admitted to be amplified, but not altered. On this scale, Smollett's Don Quixote lies somewhere between metaphrase and paraphrase. Such a conception of translation leaves little leeway for the translator to impose his own conception of the character of the original.
The late Reuben Brower remarked in a fine essay (Seven Agamemnons, reprinted in his Mirror on Mirror: Translation, Imitation, Parody, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1974) that the translator, in seeking to preserve a kind of anonymity, in seeking to eliminate himself to let his author speak often finds that the voice which actually speaks is that of his own contemporaries. Brower notes that this twofold character of anonymity and contemporaneousness can be illustrated from famous translations in which several writers have taken part. A reader quite familiar with Dryden will find it impossible to distinguish Dryden's own translations of Juvenal from those of his helpers. What reader of Pope's Homer could confidently separate on internal evidence alone the passages by Pope from those supplied by Broome and Fenton? . . . If we should define the poetry of Pope or Dryden from their translations alone, we should find we were omitting most of what distinguishes them from their contemporaries. Brower's point is of special relevance to Smollett, since it has been alleged that his translation of Don Quixote is merely a revision of Jarvis's. The accusation was first made by Alexander Tytler (Lord Woodhouselee) in his Essay on the Principles of Translation (1791) and has often been repeated. Carmine R. Linsalata, in Smollett's Hoax (Stanford, 1956), added the charge that the translation is in any case not Smollett's own work, but that of a team of hack writers hired to do the work for him; Smollett lent only his name, made famous by the publication in 1748 of Roderick Random. Linsalata's book is unconvincing, as A. A. Parker pointed out in a brief but incisive review in Modern Language Review (1959). In the light of Brower's view that anonymity and contemporaneousness characterize
most translations, Smollett's dependence on Jarvis, like the possible existence
of what Linsalata calls Smollett's hack school, seems important
primarily to students of Smollett's life rather than to readers of his
I believe that some reference to the controversy over Smollett's share in the preparation of his translation should have been made in this reissue, perhaps in a brief note to the reader following Fuentes's Introduction. Such a note might also have said something about the interpretations of Don Quixote current in England in the eighteenth century, with a reference to the studies by Anthony Close. Readers might well have been reminded that Smollett's translation appeared a quarter of a century before the first annotated edition of Cervantes, that of the Reverend John Bowle (1781), and cautioned that Smollett's admiring account of The Life of Cervantes (pp. 1-18) contains a number of inaccuracies. Finally, it would have been helpful to warn non-specialist readers of the occasional errors in Smollett's notes by adding a sentence or two in brackets to those that need correction. A brief selective bibliography would also have been useful.
Like other English versions of Cervantes's masterpiece, Smollett's falls short on two main counts. One is that it fails to render the wide range of stylistic levels in the original. Smollett does not attempt to reproduce the archaisms of Don Quixote's address to the women he finds outside the door of the inn (I. 2) and hence leaves the reader wondering why they failed to understand him. Nor does he capture the difference in stylistic level, beautifully analyzed by Erich Auerbach in Mimesis, between Sancho's address to the peasant girl that he persuades Don Quixote is Dulcinea and her brusque reply: Apártense nora en tal del camino, y déjennos pasar (II.10).
The second deficiency of Smollett's translation, again one it shares with other versions, is that it fails to capture the sense of fun in playing with the possibilities of language that sometimes makes Cervantes as hard to render into English as Rabelais. Names like Alifanfarón de Taprobana, Pentapolín del Arremangado Brazo, Brandabarbarán de Boliche, and Alfeñiquén del Algarbe, all from a single chapter (I. 18), are just on the far side of sense while remaining marvelously evocative, like the erotic glíglico invented by La Maga in Cortázar's Rayuela. Like other translators, Smollett usually leaves proper names alone, though sometimes he tries to find an English equivalent, as in Don Godamercy of Mont-alban (p. 55), the brown mountain for la Sierra Morena (pp. 193, 217). Elsewhere, Smollett keeps the Spanish name (p. 182). Sancho's deformation of Cide Hamete Berenjena becomes Cid Hamet Bean-and-jelly, . . . for I have often heard that the Moors are very fond of beans and jellies (p. 438).
Smollett's translation is on the whole readable and reasonably accurate. His errors are neither so numerous nor so grave as to lead the reader seriously astray. Some apparent errors must be attributed not to Smollett's lack of linguistic competence but to the deficiencies of the editions available to him. A case in point is his rendering of la batalla que el valiente de Tirante hizo con el alano as the battle fought between Alano and the valiant Detriante (p. 55). Juan de la Cuesta's first edition of 1605 similarly reads el
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Alano and Detriante; the emendation found in our modern
editions was first proposed by Bowle in 1781.
The slightly archaic flavor that Smollett's translation now has for English or American readers ought perhaps to be counted a virtue, since it may approximate the impression a Spanish reader gets from Cervantes's original. No reader familiar with Fielding or Sterne will find it difficult. Certainly it is much easier to read than Thomas Shelton's version (Part I, 1612; Part II, 1620), clear evidence that English has changed far more than Spanish since Cervantes's day. Anthony Close has argued persuasively that eighteenth-century readers understood Cervantes's aims better than we do, and this may be still another reason for preferring Smollett's Don Quixote to the twentieth-century translations by Samuel Putnam and J. M. Cohen or to Joseph Jones and Kenneth Douglas's revision of John Ormsby's nineteenth-century version, though, as I have suggested, Smollett's interpretation of Don Quixote can hardly be inferred from his translation alone.
Cervantistas have good reason to be glad that Smollett's Don Quixote is now available again both in a handsome hardcover edition and in paperback.
|THOMAS R. HART|
|University of Oregon|
|Fred Jehle firstname.lastname@example.org||Publications of the CSA||HCervantes|