Miguel de Cervantes 1547-1616

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Miguel de Cervantes SaavedraMiguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born in the university town of Alcalá de Henares, about 30 km north east of Madrid in Spain, on 29 September 1547. He is considered Spain’s greatest literary figure, his History and Adventures of Don Quixote has had a worldwide influence and has been translated into scores of languages. He led a colourful life, as a combatant in the naval Battle of Lepanto (1571) he was wounded and lost the use of his left hand. In 1575 he was captured by pirates and held captive for over five years. He died in Madrid on 22 April 1616, 400 years ago this month.
Right: Miguel de Cervantes (view larger image)

Cervantes earned his living as a novelist and dramatist, supplemented by some government employment. His first novel La Galatea was published in 1585, a collection of his short stories was published as Novelas ejemplares in 1613, and 16 of his plays have survived. The first of two parts of his masterpiece, Don Quixote, was published to popular acclaim in 1605, when the author was almost 60, the second part was published in 1615, the year before his death.

Subscription list for Don Quixote by Cervantes.  Translation by Tobias Smollett. 1796

Image: Subscription list for Don Quixote by Cervantes.  Translation by Tobias Smollett. Published by John Chambers, Abbey Street, 1796. (Click to enlarge)

Don Quixote by Cervantes, 1796Don Quixote was translated into English by Shelton and Blunt and published in Dublin in 1733. The translation by Charles Jarvis had a Dublin edition of 1747. The most acclaimed translation in English by the Scottish novelist and poet, Tobias Smollett, was published in London in 1755. This translation was reprinted in Dublin in 1755, with new editions published in 1766, 1783, 1791, 1795 and 1796, attesting to his popularity among Irish readers. The Dublin editions were printed in four volumes and included a life of the author by Smollett and were illustrated with copperplate engravings.

Image: Don Quixote by Cervantes.  Translation into English by the Scottish novelist and poet, Tobias Smollett. Published by John Chambers at Abbey Street in 1796 (click to enlarge)

Subscription list for Don Quixote by Cervantes.  Translation into English by the Scottish novelist and poet, Tobias Smollett. Published by John Chambers at Abbey Street in 1796This edition from the collections of Dublin City Library and Archive was published by subscription by John Chambers at Abbey Street in 1796. It is of the finest quality, printed on fine wove paper with clear sharp letters and quality engravings ‘by the first masters, from the designs of the Madrid Royal Academy’. Chambers sees his edition as ‘an endeavour to improve the art of printing in Ireland’. The frontispiece is a portrait of Cervantes writing in his study. This edition is dedicated to ‘the Provost, Fellows and Scholars of Trinity College, Dublin’. The subscription list is made up of 339 names, the first of which is the Lord Lieutenant, John Jeffries, Earl Camden. The purchasers included members of the gentry, politicians, army officers, and very many booksellers.

A number of plays also used Don Quixote as a starting point. Thomas D’Urfey published The comical history of Don Quixote, as it is acted in the theatre in Dublin in 1727, and Henry Fielding wrote a play, Don Quixote in England, a comedy, published in London and Dublin in 1734. Fielding’s History of the adventures of Joseph Andrews was ‘written in imitation of the manner of Cervantes’.

Don Quixote continues to have a place in world literature, and its central character, the aging knight Don Quixote with his trusty squire Sancho Panzo, remains a cultural icon known even to those who have not read the book.

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