Don Quixote - Part I (Translators Preface, page 1 of 49)


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I: ABOUT THIS TRANSLATION

It was with considerable reluctance that I abandoned in favour of the
present undertaking what had long been a favourite project: that of a new
edition of Shelton's "Don Quixote," which has now become a somewhat
scarce book. There are some--and I confess myself to be one--for whom
Shelton's racy old version, with all its defects, has a charm that no
modern translation, however skilful or correct, could possess. Shelton
had the inestimable advantage of belonging to the same generation as
Cervantes; "Don Quixote" had to him a vitality that only a contemporary
could feel; it cost him no dramatic effort to see things as Cervantes saw
them; there is no anachronism in his language; he put the Spanish of
Cervantes into the English of Shakespeare. Shakespeare himself most
likely knew the book; he may have carried it home with him in his
saddle-bags to Stratford on one of his last journeys, and under the
mulberry tree at New Place joined hands with a kindred genius in its
pages.

But it was soon made plain to me that to hope for even a moderate
popularity for Shelton was vain. His fine old crusted English would, no
doubt, be relished by a minority, but it would be only by a minority. His
warmest admirers must admit that he is not a satisfactory representative
of Cervantes. His translation of the First Part was very hastily made and
was never revised by him. It has all the freshness and vigour, but also a
full measure of the faults, of a hasty production. It is often very
literal--barbarously literal frequently--but just as often very loose. He
had evidently a good colloquial knowledge of Spanish, but apparently not
much more. It never seems to occur to him that the same translation of a
word will not suit in every case.

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