From: Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America 7.1 (1987): 59-69.
Copyright © 1987, The Cervantes Society of America


Notes on Nineteenth-Century Quijote Scholarship


THE Quijote's CRITICAL heritage descends from the work of Romantic and Neoclassic critics of the middle and late nineteenth century, who were the first to establish it solidly among the classics of the world and who earned for Cervantes' masterpiece the acclaim it deserved but had not enjoyed until that time. With the claim that the Quijote was more than a literary satire, Diego Clemencín determined for modern Cervantine scholarship an appropriate direction; Juan Valera and Menéndez Pelayo are also well-known as pioneer Quijote critics. But the story of Quijote criticism we have today is a long way from complete, because it has left key figures out of the picture. While critics like Clemencín, Valera, and Menéndez Pelayo, among others, have enjoyed a measure of recognition, there were notable literary historians whose books and articles helped create the Quijote legacy, but whose impact has been ignored in the twentieth century.1 After Clemencín's generation, from about 1860 onwards, Quijote scholarship experienced a period of rapid and extraordinary growth, manifested by the appearance of dynamic personalities, including José María Asensio, Francisco Tubino, Mariano Pardo de Figueroa, Manuel de la Revilla, and Ramón León Máinez. It is to these thinkers and scholars that additional recognition should be given, and at the same time it will be useful to study them in terms of their reactions to a leading critic of the period, Nicolás Díaz de Benjumea.

     1 A list of all pertinent books and articles appears at the end of this paper.



     The NeoRomantic thinking of Benjumea, though tempered by that of others mentioned above, made these particular decades an especially exciting time for scholars to be writing about the Quijote, for he was surely one of the more colorful personalities among commentators of the second half of the nineteenth century. A self-styled romantic, poet, and polemicist, who sometimes could be accused of confusing and esoterically involved notions about the Quijote (among the many labels Benjumea gave to his work was “esoteric”), he injected new ideas into that body of criticism, spawning theories that the Generation of '98 and later ones would adopt. His method prescribes the application of events of Cervantes' life and those in Spain during his lifetime to the Quijote as a whole and to its specific episodes, with the purpose of finding hidden meanings. This unveiling of the secrets of a literary work (sentido oculto) was, according to Benjumea, the principal job of the critic, for a novel certainly could not be interpreted in isolation from its author since it sprang from his personal triumphs and misfortunes. Benjumea and others of the nineteenth century relied on extrinsic methods, and creating an information bank for Cervantes' biography, they sensed the importance of his life in the interpretation of his work.
     Among the key events to which Benjumea referred was the betrayal by Juan Blanco de Paz, in Algiers, when Cervantes was a prisoner in the 1570's, an act of chicanery that left a lasting impression on him and later took hold of him as he composed the Quijote. Furthermore, Benjumea believed that Sansón Carrasco embodied this archenemy of Cervantes. When he wrote El correo de Alquife, o segundo aviso de Cid Azam-Ouzad Benengeli, sobre el desencanto del Quijote, 1866, (the titles of Benjumea's works were meant to draw attention, shock, or surprise), he insisted on Juan Blanco de Paz's incarnation in Sansón Carrasco, because he found that Cervantes' description of this student and academic was too precise and complex for him not to have a living model. Cervantes' other characters, notes Benjumea, were too representative of the type they portrayed —barbers, priests, poets, and so on—, and thus stand in contrast to the figure of Sansón, who surely represented a contemporary of Cervantes who was an informer from the Holy Office.
     Sometimes Benjumea's method led to spurious conclusions. For example, the name of the disciplinante with whom Don Quijote has an encounter in I, 19, López de Alcobendas, is an anagram for “es lo de Blanco de Paz,” indicating Cervantes' obsession with this so-called spy. Benjumea was on less shaky ground, however, when dealing on a figurative plane: Dulcinea, for example, did not incarnate any specific

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person, but instead stood for wisdom and free thought.
     Benjumea's search for recondite meanings in the Quijote may have been the outcome of his wanting too much to discard simplistic interpretations of the Quijote which seemed to be etched in stone. But his effort paid off in the long run, for the opposition to the long-held belief that the work was a literary parody attracted many other critics of the period. Benjumea for his part claimed that Cervantes' intention was political reform as he called for a “new age of chivalry.” Since Benjumea was a journalist involved in politics, it comes as no surprise that his political inclinations influenced his analytical method.
     Benjumea's ideas organized systematically present the Quijote as a moral and political allegory of man's struggle against blind faith and orthodoxy; concretely, Cervantes' target was the Inquisition of sixteenth-century Spain. Benjumea's symbolic approach also allows the reader to associate Cervantes and his hero with the lonely embattled philosopher, whose writings were manifestations of an inner struggle of the spirit against the world that pursued him and took away his freedom. Indeed in his earliest articles published on the Quijote in the journal La América before 1860, Benjumea made clear his view of Cervantes' social reform objectives, the invective against chivalry being merely an outward sign of the altruistic aim in the Quijote of protecting the humble against force.
     In 1878 he authored La verdad sobre el “Quijote”, and besides repeating the commonplace of his criticism that the work dramatizes the conflict of the soul with material interests, he declared that he found the key to the mystery of the novel in Cervantes' passionate concern with evil and ill-willed contemporaries, schooled in the orthodox way of thinking purveyed by the Inquisition. Benjumea even believed that the author of the apocryphal second part of the Quijote was a Dominican who rewrote the Quijote because he did not approve of social reform notions in Cervantes' first part. In his last comment on the Quijote in 1880 (an edition of the novel), Benjumea briefly restated his belief that it could never have been a satire of chivalry, but rather a satire of human weakness and folly. He even promoted it as a guide to eternal human felicity —the “Biblia humana,” a remark typical of the panegyric mode in Cervantine criticism of the latter part of the century against which Valera and Menéndez Pelayo reacted.
     We may sum up Benjumea's contributions to Quijote criticism in the following ways: 1) He refused to agree with his predecessors who, he felt, had read Cervantes' life into his works in too literal a fashion, and consequently could not give those events proper weight. He asserted early on that the Quijote was a work that had to be cracked


open through his “occult” approach. 2) He made interesting observations on the Quijote when restrained, but too often his commentaries suffered from excesses and exaggerations. 3) Most importantly, he insisted that the Quijote could be open to scores of possible interpretations, especially the symbolic one (which had been developed by European Romantics long before), the implication being that he dismissed, and properly so, any exclusivist approach, such as chivalric satire alone. This often-repeated suggestion of Benjumea's was surely appropriate for an intelligent and fresh reading of the Quijote, for, he said, the Quijote could not have endured as a world classic if its only objective was to poke fun at chivalry books or even at the Spanish nobility; its theme had to be broader than that. Benjumea' s NeoRomanticism influenced generations thereafter but did not necessarily prevail among his contemporaries, at least not immediately. It often takes a great deal of time for an iconoclastic or unconventional method to prove its worth, if it has any. As it turned out, the implications of Benjumea's work were far more significant and influential than the criticism itself.2
     Chief among the proponents of neoclassicism of the late nineteenth century was José María Asensio y Toledo, a gifted and prolific writer, editor, and bibliographer, who often opposed Benjumea in rather dramatic demonstrations of scholarly savvy. Although Asensio did not produce a complete, systematic study of the Quijote, he did comment generously on all aspects of the polemics of the final decades of the century. In “Comentario de comentarios, que es como si dijéramos Cuento de Cuentos . . .” he rejected Benjumea's conclusions outright, claiming that they were absurd and far-fetched and that they offered little in the way of original interpretation of the novel; additionally he criticized Benjumea for having derived his ideas from foreign sources. He objected especially to criticism that claimed that Cervantes wrote the Quijote reacting to Spanish institutions like the Inquisition, the monarchy, or figures in high places, an upshot of the perennial controversy of “las dos Españas.” Recalling Clemencín from the previous generation, Asensio agreed that the Quijote was a moralistic novel that dissected social and individual evils through an amusing story. But Asensio also admired the Quijote because it had

     2 According to Anthony Close, Benjumea changed Quijote criticism in two principal ways: by persuading Spaniards to accept basic Romantic attitudes and by convincing them that the novel had a prophetic social message. See The Romantic Approach to “Don Quixote” (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), pp. 101-02.

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universal appeal through its uniquely conceived characters. In a short piece titled “Cervantes, inventor,” Asensio explained the modernity of Cervantes' literary creations as having emerged from the “ruins of chivalry books”: the downfall of that genre made possible Cervantes' ingenious invention. Furthermore, he observed the numerous imitations of the Quijote throughout Europe which is also proof that Cervantes gave modern literature its primary impulse.
     Another way in which Asensio built his reputation as a Cervantist was through his bibliographical activity.3 No other individual of the nineteenth century (with the possible exception of Leopoldo Rius) did as much spadework for his generation, and those that followed, by gathering sources crucial for the study of the Quijote. He catalogued very rare criticism dating from the seventeenth century, dug up documents on Cervantes' life, and worked assiduously on the earliest printings of the Quijote, attempting to establish the most correct one. He also “corrected” errors about Cervantes' life that he believed could be found in the work of Benjumea. As one can see, Asensio constantly attacked Benjumea, feeling that Cervantes loved Spain so much that he could never have indulged himself in hidden attacks (sentido oculto), the cornerstone of Benjumea's theories. Clearly, here is where Asensio thought that Benjumea's criticism was excessive.
     Ideas like Benjumea's can invite a plethora of reactions and in doing so bring out the best in persons who otherwise may not have paid much attention to these issues. Essays and books written in response to his symbolic-occult-esoteric approach allowed several new critics to become noted Cervantists in their own right. Among them we find Ramón León Máinez, Mariano Pardo de Figueroa, Francisco Tubino, and Manuel de la Revilla, who join the celebrated kindred spirits Juan Valera and Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo.
     Ramón León Máinez defended Benjumea vigorously against Asensio's attacks and in his Cartas literarias por el Bachiller Cervántico supported Benjumea's method. He declared that the latter deserved praise, not condemnation, for making critics aware of certain truths that until his time lay undiscovered in the Quijote. His appreciation of

     3 In 1949 Asensio's private library enriched the Cervantine collection of the Biblioteca Nacional with 310 editions (many first ones) and 168 volumes of criticism. See Miguel Santiago Rodríguez, Catálogo de la biblioteca cervantina de don José María Asensio y Toledo (Madrid, 1948).


Benjumea extended to a public pronouncement that he was the one member of his generation who explored new horizons for the Spaniards' understanding of their greatest literary achievement: no longer could Spain afford its fixation with Don Quijote as a foolish madman and with the work itself as merely a satire of a literary genre. Because of Benjumea, asserted Máinez, the Quijote would reign as a book of the new Spain, a book about men who strive to free themselves of ancient authority through the protest of an independent spirit. Similarly, Máinez later wrote that not only Cervantes himself but also “a new age of ideas” put to rest the influence of the decaying system of chivalry. Máinez evidently leaned heavily on the political dogma found in the issues that Benjumea raised, and often launched defenses of him in his journal, Crónica de los Cervantistas, 1871-79, which became one of the most important vehicles for debate over Cervantes' works during this time. In the pages of that journal and in separate publications another critic was on the rise: Mariano Pardo de Figueroa. An excellent bibliophile but something of a dilettante and meddler, he supported Benjumea and revered his invention of a system of cryptic symbolism in the Quijote that produced anagrams spelling the name of Blanco de Paz and the like. Pardo's publications must be of concern, however, because they relate events in the Cervantine world during the 1860's and 1870's involving textual and philological investigation of the Quijote, reviews of significant books, and other sundry matters which Cervantists needed to know. Pardo also published under the pseudonyms E. W. Thebussem and M. Droap.
     Francisco Tubino, another who responded to Benjumea, noted that there were two kinds of Quijote critics —intelligent readers who appreciated the beauty of the book's words and their meaning, and those who read into the text ideas of dubious origin. Tubino said that Benjumea should be associated with the latter because of his peculiar notions regarding Cervantes' political and clerical positions. While Tubino may not have agreed with Benjumea, he did see the value in Benjumea's determination that Cervantes' biography would be crucial to a proper and complete understanding of the work.
     The whirlwind of activity in the final four decades of the nineteenth century brought with it critics who paved the way for major new interpretations of the Quijote and its relationship to world literature and literary study. Juan Valera, who wrote prolifically on the Quijote, was among these important thinkers, his criticism being a vital link to modern Quijote scholarship. Needless to say, he strongly contested the methods used by Benjumea. He was especially disturbed

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by the esoteric claims that Benjumea made about the novel and countered by saying that to insist that the Quijote was political allegory diminished its artistic integrity. Prefiguring the ideas of Menéndez Pelayo, Valera states that: Cervantes was a passionate and sensitive artist who lifted the real world of his hero to a poetic plane; with the vigor of his imagination, he painted with uncanny fidelity the totality of real life; he did not create with the calculating eye of the scientist; and he had no secrets or magic formulas, only the genius to be able to make poetic the human reality of Spain in the magnificent movement and dynamic form of a novel with epic proportions. To indulge in finding contemporary models for Cervantes' fictional characters, Valera continues, served little purpose and stifled the critic's ability to understand the artist's temperament and the function of literature. Hence, for Valera, the Quijote was a beautiful story whose simple pretext was the satire of chivalry books, which became far more profound as it progressed.
     During the 1870's, Manuel de la Revilla argued for a traditional, pre-Benjumean interpretation of the Quijote. He attempted to persuade his fellow critics to put to rest the excesses of those who espoused the occult approach and who believed the Quijote was a political allegory. Revilla agreed with Valera that Cervantes' explicit intention was to ridicule the foibles of chivalry books and that only indirectly did he attack the Spanish nobility. Like Asensio, he refused to accept any suggestion that Cervantes was anti-Spanish. Further, Revilla recognized the novel's value in a way much different from that of Benjumea: Cervantes was repudiating an outmoded and outlandish literary genre to be sure, but he did not realize when he composed his masterpiece that it would come to have transcendental importance, as Benjumea thought he did. This means of course that Cervantes did not intend for his work to have any symbolic functioning, and went contrary to the clever contrivances of the Benjumea imagination. Therefore, Revilla concluded only time and hindsight could uncover the genius of a work, and it was futile for scholars to look back and calculate what Cervantes might have been thinking when he wrote the Quijote.
     The Quijote for Revilla was a novel of profound human experience, the experience of searching for ideals, and although in this quest for the impossible Don Quijote appeared ridiculous, ironically he was not. It seems that the implication of Revilla's comments is failure, suggesting what was to become a major theme in Quijote criticism of the twentieth century. In any case, Revilla would admit only to chivalric parody as the pretext for Cervantes' novel, probably for the purpose


of debunking Benjumea's esoteric divinations. To say that Cervantes had come upon the true meaning of the human comedy was justifiable, but to believe he wrote the Quijote for the purpose of allegorizing Spain was sheer folly, according to Revilla's tempered, balanced, and convincing arguments.
     By Revilla's time, Spaniards had begun to realize the importance of the Quijote to the study of world literature, not just to Spanish reality. Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo, with his Historia de las ideas estéticas en España, begun in 1883, and his later treatises on Spanish orthodoxy and literary history, attempted to find for Spain its proper place in the cultural history of Europe. Early in his career, he wrote in reaction to the work of Benjumea. He did not believe in imposing a symbolic or esoteric system on the Quijote and thus he could not view Cervantes as a scientist who consciously invented a sophisticated system or approach to a work of art. According to Menéndez Pelayo, Cervantes created his fictional world from what he observed and gave it poetic substance and clarity. In a word, a poet perceives form qua form, without having to study the science of form: Cervantes was an ingenio lego who did not invent precepts, since ideas in the Quijote sprang from common sense and intuition, not from scientific formulas. Don Marcelino explains in Historia de la ideas estéticas en España, volume 2:

Quiero decir que la intuición que el artista tiene no es la intuición de altas verdades científicas, . . . sino sólo la intuición de la forma, que es el mundo intelectual en que él vive . . . .  Dante y Goethe eran a la vez poetas y hombres de ciencia, de los mayores de su respectivo tiempo; pero no eran poetas por su ciencia, ni científicos por su poesía, sino que en ellos, por raro caso, se habían juntado dos aptitudes distintas que se ayudaban maravillosamente. Pero Cervantes era poeta, y sólo poeta, ingenio lego, como en su tiempo se decía. Sus ideas científicas no podían ser . . . sino las del número mayor, las ideas oficiales . . . (p. 266).

This young Menéndez Pelayo hit upon an interpretation of Cervantes as artist that has endured as one of the most important modern guides for the analysis of the Quijote.
     The critics studied here established fundamental criteria for research on the Quijote. The early Romanticism of the century, which viewed Don Quijote and Sancho in an allegorical configuration of the struggle between the spirit and the material world, was carried forward in Spain by Benjumea. Critics of the past century were also profoundly interested in extrinsic influences on the Quijote, more so than today, and demonstrated vigorously how events in Cervantes' life could aid the reader in understanding the Quijote. Further,

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chivalric parody and satire became aspects of the Quijote exploited for the purpose of discovering Cervantes' statement on the human condition. Subsequently, however, paradox and irony replaced satire as a major issue by the end of the century, leading to the principal themes explored in the twentieth. Finally, these scholars, whose training was generally in philology, attempted to organize an accurate, corrected text of Cervantes' masterpiece, a delicate assignment that still goes on today, as do many others that were first begun more than 150 years ago.



(All works are listed in chronological order)

  1. Works by Nicolás Díaz de Benjumea:

    “Significación histórica de Cervantes.” La América (Madrid) 11 (August 8, 1859).

    “Refutación de la creencia generalmente sostenida de que el Quijote fué una sátira contra los libros caballerescos.” La América (Madrid) 11 September 24, October 8 and 24, 1859).

    “Comentarios filosóficos del Quijote”. La América (Madrid) 11 (November 8 and 24, December 8 and 24, 1859).

    La estafeta de Urganda, o aviso de Cid Asam-Ouzad Benengeli, sobre el desencanto del Quijote. London, 1861.

    El correo de Alquife, o segundo aviso de Cid Asam-Ouzad Benengeli, sobre el desencanto del Quijote. Barcelona, 1866.

    “Educación científica de Cervantes.” El Museo Universal 13 (1869): 19-22 and 38-39.

    “Epístola cervantina.” Crónica de los Cervantistas 1, no. 5 (August 10, 1872): 157-59.

    El mensage de Merlín, o tercer aviso de Cid Asam-Ouzad Benengeli, sobre el desencanto del Quijote. London, 1875.

    “El progreso en la crítica del Quijote.” Revista de España 64 (1878): 474-88; 65 (1878): 42-59, 450-66; 66 (1879): 158-72 and 329-48; 67 (1879): 519-38.

    La verdad sobre el Quijote. Novísima historia crítica de la vida de Cervantes. Madrid, 1878.

    Ed., Don Quijote de la Mancha. Barcelona, 1880.

  2. Works by ]osé María Asensio y Toledo:

    Nuevos documentos para ilustrar la vida de Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Sevilla, 1864.

    Dos cartas literarias. Madrid, 1867.

    “Comentario de Comentarios, que es como si dijéramos Cuento de Cuentos.” In Cartas literarias sobre el “Quijote.” Cádiz, 1868.

    “Observaciones sobre las ediciones primitivas del Ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha.” Revista de España 9 (1869): 367-76.

    Cervantes y sus obras: Cartas dirigidas a varios amigos. Sevilla, 1870.

    El sentido oculto del “Quijote.” Sevilla, 1871.

    Catálogo de algunos libros, folletos y artículos sueltos referentes a la vida y a las obras de Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Sevilla, 1872.

    Los continuadores de “El ingenioso hidalgo.” Madrid, 1873.

    “¿Puede traducirse el Quijote?” Revista de España 34 (1873): 529-36.

    “Cervantes, inventor.” In Conmemoración del aniversario CCLVIII de la muerte de Miguel de Cervantes. Sevilla, 1874, pp. 42-46.

    “Algunas notas preparadas para un nuevo comentario al Ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha.” Revista de Valencia 2 (May 1, 1882): 241; 3 (April 1, 1883): 180-84.

    Catálogo de la Biblioteca Cervantina de J. M. Asensio. Valencia, 1883.

    Notas de algunos libros, artículos y folletos sobre la vida y las obras de Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Sevilla, 1885.


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  1. Works by other critics with reference to the Benjumea controversy:

    Tubino, Francisco María. “El Quijote” y “La estafeta de Urganda.” Sevilla, 1862.

    Hartzenbusch, Juan Eugenio. “Prólogo” to the Argamasilla edition of Don Quijote. Argamasilla de Alba, 1863.

    Valera, Juan. “Contestación al último comunicado del señor Benjumea.” In Estudios críticos sobre literatura, política y costumbres de nuestros días, III. Madrid, 1864, pp. 31-55.

    Valera, Juan. “Sobre La estafeta de Urganda, o aviso de Cide Asam-Ouzad Benengeli, sobre el desencanto del “Quijote,” escrito por Nicolás Díaz de Benjumea—Londres, 1861.” In Estudios críticos sobre literatura, política y costumbres de nuestros días, III. Madrid, 1864, pp. 17-29.

    Valera, Juan. “Sobre El Quijote y las diferentes maneras de comentarlo y juzgarlo.” Discurso, Real Academia, Madrid, 1864.

    Máinez, Ramón León. “Las interpretaciones del Sr. Díaz de Benjumea: crítica de críticas.” In Cartas literarias sobre Cervantes y el “Quijote” por el Bachiller Cervántico. Cádiz, 1868, pp. 1-16.

    Pardo de Figueroa, Mariano. Siete cartas sobre Cervantes y el “Quijote.” Cádiz, 1868.

    Cervantes Peredo, Manuel. “El sentido oculto.” Crónica de los Cervantistas 1, no. 2 (December 12, 1871): 69-70.

    Tubino, Francisco María. Cervantes y el “Quijote”: Estudios críticos. Madrid, 1872.

    Máinez, Ramón León. “Un nuevo libro de Benjumea.” Crónica de los Cervantistas 3, no. 5 (March 15, 1876): 169-72.

    Revilla, Manuel de la. “La interpretación simbólica del Quijote.” In Obras de Manuel de la Revilla. Madrid, 1883, pp. 365-93.

    Revilla, Manuel de la. “De algunas opiniones nuevas sobre Cervantes y el Quijote.” In Obras de Manuel de la Revilla. Madrid, 1883, pp. 395-430.

    Menéndez Pelayo, Marcelino. Historia de los heterodoxos españoles. Madrid, 1880-1882.

    Menéndez Pelayo, Marcelino. Historia de las ideas estéticas en España. Madrid, 1883 et seq.

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