Don Quixote - Part I (Translators Preface, page 2 of 49)


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It is often said that we have no satisfactory translation of "Don
Quixote." To those who are familiar with the original, it savours of
truism or platitude to say so, for in truth there can be no thoroughly
satisfactory translation of "Don Quixote" into English or any other
language. It is not that the Spanish idioms are so utterly unmanageable,
or that the untranslatable words, numerous enough no doubt, are so
superabundant, but rather that the sententious terseness to which the
humour of the book owes its flavour is peculiar to Spanish, and can at
best be only distantly imitated in any other tongue.

The history of our English translations of "Don Quixote" is instructive.
Shelton's, the first in any language, was made, apparently, about 1608,
but not published till 1612. This of course was only the First Part. It
has been asserted that the Second, published in 1620, is not the work of
Shelton, but there is nothing to support the assertion save the fact that
it has less spirit, less of what we generally understand by "go," about
it than the first, which would be only natural if the first were the work
of a young man writing currente calamo, and the second that of a
middle-aged man writing for a bookseller. On the other hand, it is closer
and more literal, the style is the same, the very same translations, or
mistranslations, occur in it, and it is extremely unlikely that a new
translator would, by suppressing his name, have allowed Shelton to carry
off the credit.

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