Cervantes, the brilliant author

By Archivos Estatales

Alfredo Alvar - Archivos Estatales

The creator Cervantes is a man influenced by the international currents of his time. He takes advantage of them and he also criticises them. But above all, he is the author of unusual originality.

LIFE Photo Collection

Initial texts

The culture of the young Cervantes was, like so many boys of his age, impressive. His verses from 1568 which have remained as manuscripts until the nineteenth century are known. His first printed verses were in 1569. In 1585 he published his novel La Galatea and while other of his works contracts are known, there would not be a "Cervantes" in print again until 1605.

Sale of printing rights of La Galatea. Sale of printing rights of La Galatea. (1584-06-14) by Francisco Martínez, King's notary and public notary in Madrid. (Archivo Histórico de Protocolos de Madrid.)Archivos Estatales

La Galatea, considered a pastoral novel, complex work and, in the words of Cervantes himself, in need of a second part that was never written, was published in Alcalá de Henares in 1585.

A few months earlier, in early 1584, he had begun the publishing process. Specifically, on 6 June 1584, Cervantes sold the printing rights to Blas de Robles:

"Miguel de Cervantes, a resident of this Court <e> granted that he assigns, sells, waives and transfers to Blas de Robles, a merchant of books [...] a book of prose and verse in which is contained the six books of Galatea".

Contract for two comedies.Archivos Estatales

As it would be known in the talking shops of Madrid that he would release La Galatea and Miguel de Cervantes was taken into some consideration, the impresario ("writer of comedies") Gaspar de Robles bought two works that are now lost: (The Confused Woman) and (The Constantinople deal and the death of Celín).

The contract is dated 5 March 1585 and the works would have to be delivered in the following weeks. Cervantes would receive 40 ducats for them.

La Galatea: shipments to America. (1621-04-03) by Archivo General de Indias.Archivos Estatales

In this curious document is a shipment of "one trunk of number 1 books of the brand in margin [...] to deliver in the city of Cartagena or Portobello [...] the treasurer at the Cathedral Church of Santa Fe of the New Kingdom of Granada".

Note that the shipment is after 1620 and they are still sending copies of La Galatea.

In this list we can highlight shipments of a book of Spanish medicine, comedies of Lope, Cornelius Tacitus in romance, a cosmography and at the end of the list, an "ambassador of Don Juan de Vera and La Galatea de Cervantes Galatea [sic]".

Lit Cervantes Don Quixote Alken 1832LIFE Photo Collection

"Don Quixote" (1605)

His Andalusian activity completed, a new stage in the life of Cervantes is opened that coincides with the relocation of his family to Valladolid after the Court. With the first part of Don Quixote recently published, Gaspar de Ezpeleta is assassinated at the door of his house, which generates other vital setbacks. But we will engage with Don Quixote. Throughout this entire time Cervantes, who defined himself as "fond of reading even the very scraps of paper in the streets" (Don Quixote I,9) never stopped reading or writing. It can not be known for sure when or how he started writing Don Quixote. However, what we do know, is that this masterpiece of creation, intelligence and human freedom, was completed in 1604.

Printing license application file for 'El Quijote' by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.Archivos Estatales

The publication of a book in the Golden Age had to meet a number of requirements that had its steps.

On 20 July 1604, in Valladolid, Miguel de Cervantes delivered the original manuscript to the Chamber of Castile and finished a book entitled The Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha for which he begins the publishing procedures.

This document is the application by Miguel de Cervantes for "Approval" and "Printing privilege":

"Miguel de Cervantes, say I, that I have written a book entitled 'The ingenious gentleman of La Mancha' which I submit. Your Highness, I ask and beg to be served and to be given licence and privilege to publish for 20 years, attentive to much study and work that I have put into composing this book, and being a gentle and curious reading of great wit, in which I will receive great good and mercy. And for that purpose, etc. Miguel de Cervantes".

Printing license application file for 'El Quijote' by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.Archivos Estatales

Having received the original manuscript, the scribe Juan Gallo de Andrada passes it to a meeting of the Chamber, which decides that the book be endorsed by the chronicler of the Indies Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, a friend of Cervantes.

Our author had requested printing privilege for 20 years; it is granted for 10. Throughout this document, he never signs as Saavedra; however Antonio de Herrera refers to him as Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. Does this mean anything? In any case, the birth of this unparalleled novel has already begun.

In this image you will find the award of the "Approval" and "Printing privilege":

"By command of Your Highness, I have seen a book called The Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha composed by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and I think, being in the service of Your Highness, that you might give licence to publish it because it will be tasteful and entertainment for the people to which in the rules of good governance, care must be taken beyond that, no fault is found within that is contrary to law and good moral practices. And I signed my name, in Valladolid on 11 September 1604. Antonio de Herrera”.

Royal Cédula of printing license to Miguel de Cervantes for the book entitled 'El Ingenioso Hidalgo de La Mancha'.Archivos Estatales

Within 15 days of Antonio de Herrera proposing approval for the authorisation of the publishing of the work of Cervantes, the royal decree was registered in the books of the Chamber of Castile. A duplicate of this same document had to be printed in the preliminaries of Don Quixote, as was done. However, the "Approval" written by Antonio de Herrera was never printed, and it should have been.

"The King. Because by you, Miguel de Cervantes came to us to establish a partnership that he has written a book entitled The Ingenious Gentleman of La Mancha, which had taken a lot of work..."

Don Quijote: shipments to America.Archivos Estatales

In January 1605, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha went on sale in the shop of Francisco de Robles, in Madrid for the enjoyment and tranquillity of its readers. The second edition of Juan de la Cuesta was also in 1605.

As expected, a book of chivalry (albeit against books of chivalry) and in addition to entertainment, it is very possible that it had great success in the Indies, it should not be forgotten that the exploits of Amadis and other companions marked the mentality of the conquistadors. According to the records that are preserved, more than 400 copies of Don Quixote passed legally to the Americas in 1605, both to bookshops in the Caribbean and on the Pacific.

[Line 3]: "One of Don Quixote of La Mancha in ten reals... 340 [maravedíes]"

Lit Cervantes 2 (1800)LIFE Photo Collection

Final texts

Cervantes is preparing his exemplary novels, his last comedies, his last interludes and his last great verses, which will be published between 1613 and 1617. The fake Quixote of Avellaneda having emerged, and with breakneck speed, Cervantes prepares his forceful response, "Part II of Don Quixote" which will be released in 1615. It is a work that corrects the first part when necessary but is above all a self-reflection of the existential philosophy of the author.

Lawsuit against unauthorised printers of the Novelas Ejemplares. (1613-09-28) by Juan Calvo, King's notary. (Archivo Histórico de Protocolos de Madrid.)Archivos Estatales

Exemplary Novels, 1613.

At the height of 1613, with the help of the publisher Juan de la Cuesta, Cervantes releases twelve short texts or "Exemplary Novels" that were highly successful.

If he had begun to write them in 1590, they are very vivid stories that are referring to his own existence. They are works that speak of love, crime, politics, etc.

It is very difficult to highlight some works over others. In The Lawyer of Glass Cervantes describes to us the adventures of a young traveller who feels that if he is touched, he will break; in The English Spanish Lady he tells us, focusing on the life of a young woman kidnapped by Drake, how peace can be signed even with the worst enemies; in The Conversation of the Dogs two pooches talk about their adventures with their masters. This work served to inspire Sigmund Freud.

In the image, the complaint against unauthorised publishers of the Exemplary Novels, of 28 September 1613.

Lit Cervantes 3 (1800)LIFE Photo Collection

Journey to Parnassus, 1614.

In this work, Cervantes describes the Spanish poetic atmosphere of the early seventeenth century in more than 3,000 verses, condensing more than one hundred living authors into a few lines. The work has surreal parts.

In Song of Calliope, attached to La Galatea, he had already described another hundred contemporary authors and in The diverting and important scrutiny..., in Don Quixote, another thirty: the cultural foundations of Cervantes almost overcame his creative capacity.

In the image, an illustration to the chapter The diverting and important scrutiny which the curate and the barber made in the library of our ingenious gentleman (Don Quixote I,3).

Novelas Ejemplares and Comedias: shipments to America.Archivos Estatales

Eight comedies and eight new interludes, never represented, 1615.

Shortly after publication of the fake Quixote of Avellaneda, Cervantes responds with the second part of Don Quixote. Undoubtedly, he had already prepared his comedies and interludes that went on sale, but circumstances made it so that they were all released at the same time.

In these comedies, Cervantes returned to his Algerian experience or human feelings. His skill in the interludes should be noted, short texts that were represented in the intervals of major works and in which our author, with great skill and his usual humour, deals with divorce, mocks blood purity, calls the traditional qualities of his contemporaries into question and describes the municipal political situation with the mastery of the classic who knows the vices of the magistrates: every citizen of the nineteenth century should read the The Election of the Magistrates of Daganzo.

In the image, a document regarding the shipments of the "Comedias de Cervantes" (Comedies of Cervantes) (line 25) to America.

Lit Cervantes Don Quixote VariousLIFE Photo Collection

Second part of the Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, 1615.

Cervantes, once again, has tried a trade outside the Court without success, but in the circle of the Duke of Lerma: he has tried to leave with his son to Naples. These are the days in which he publishes the second part of Don Quixote.

The interpretations that have made of this second part Don Quixote have been even more exaggerated than those that have made of the first. In any case, this serious and methodical work can be seen as a complement, reflection and general correction of the first part; it is, of course, a response to the fake Quixote of Avellaneda and, above all, an end to that fascinating ghost that is Don Quixote who, to regain the trial and thus die, he makes Alonso Quijano rise again. But Cervantes narrates with emotion (and humour) his death in such manner and form that in this final apotheosis, he buries all resumption of this immense intellectual adventure that we know as Don Quixote.

Cervantes Miguel De 1547-1616LIFE Photo Collection

The Trials of Persiles and Sigismunda, a Northern Story, 1617.

In this work, the adventures and downfalls of some pilgrims at the time of victory of the Catholic Reform over the Protestant reformations is narrated to us. The drafting of this text coincides with other verses from Cervantes to the ecstasy of Santa Teresa and other hagiographic poems to another nun.

But the fame of Persiles, even despite her beauty, is due to its overwhelming dedication to the Count of Lemos, the Viceroy in Naples. Its delicate prologue against the arrogant folly of arrogant youth should also be read sardonically and with tenderness.

Cervantes never saw a single copy of this book. This time, in an act of sublime appreciation of her late husband, the publishing procedures were performed by his wife.

The last breaths

So, despite such vitality, Cervantes had felt the arrival of the Grim Reaper. Perhaps because of this, or because of the end times, he was making decisions: in 1609 he was enrolled in the Congregation of the Brotherhood of Slaves of the Blessed Sacrament and shortly before his death, he professed in the Venerable Third Order of Saint Francis, or composed such counter-reformist compositions.

Two days after having written the dedication of Persiles, Cervantes draws his last breath.

Miguel de Cervantes died at his home in Madrid after having dictated -or uttered- his last wishes. It was on 22 April 1616.

As stated in the register of the parish of San Sebastian, he was buried the following day at the convent of the Trinitarians, where he wanted, in recognition of those who had done so much for his release.

As he had professed in the Venerable Third Order of Saint Francis, he was enshrouded with the habit of the order and with his face uncovered.

His remains were transferred from the "Old Church" to the "New Church" in 1687 without it being stated anywhere that... "These are the bones of M.C.".

Credits: Story

Scientific Director: Dr. Alfredo Alvar Ezquerra (CSIC).
Archival Management: Julia Rodríguez de Diego (General Archive of Simancas).

Drafting of texts and palaeographic transcriptions: Alfredo Alvar Ezquerra.

This work is part of the work carried out under the research project of the National R&D Plan funded by the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness of the Kingdom of Spain, which takes place at the Spanish National Council for Advanced Scientific Research (CSIC) under the direction of Dr. Alfredo Alvar Ezquerra, the title of which is "Tangible and intangible personal cultural exchanges (ss. XVI-XVII)” (ref. no. HAR2014-55233-P).

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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