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Cervantes Saavedra

Cervantes Saavedra, Miguel (1547-1616), a celebrated Spanish soldier, and better known as the author of the immortal Don Quixote. He was a native of New Castile, and, like Homer, he was claimed as a native by seven cities. The ancestors of Cervantes came at an early date from Galicia, and appear to have settled at Alcala de Henares, which was the birthplace of Miguel. Not much is known of his youth beyond what may be gathered from his works, but it is clear that he received a fair education, and in 1568 he is mentioned as succeeding in a poetical competition upon the occasion of the funeral of Isabel, wife of Philip II. In the same year we find him at Madrid as the page of Cardinal Acquaviva, whom he accompanied to Rome. In 1570 he entered the army at an epoch when the Spanish arms were at the height of their renown, and his first campaign was at sea. At the battle of Lepanto he got out of a sick bed in spite of remonstrance, and so bore himself as to attract the notice of the commander-in-chief, Don John of Austria. In 1573 Cervantes took part in the expedition of Don John against Tunis, and in 1575, while returning upon leave from the army in Italy, he was captured by Algerine pirates. He remained in slavery for five years, and has recorded his experiences in Don Quixote. He again joined the army, but his services were forgotten, and in 1583 he quitted the army and returned to literature. One work of this period was a prose pastoral, Galatea, which he criticises in Don Quixote, and which appears to be neither better nor worse than the ordinary stilted poetry of the period. In 1584 Cervantes married, and continued to write poetry and dramatic pieces which seem to have had much success. But he could not compete with Lope de Vega as a dramatist, and the next twenty years of his life were passed in a struggle with poverty which almost precluded him from writing. In 1588 he was employed in the victualling of the Invincible Armada; in 1598 he wrote a sonnet ridiculing the extravagant pomp which marked the funeral of Philip II., and in 1603 he was among the crowd of those who vainly expected something from the new Court. It was in 1605 that he published the first part of Don Quixote, which, in spite of its literary defects and marks of carelessness, had a great success. Those who missed its points as a satire aimed at the extravagant romances of chivalry which marked the decadence of chivalry itself, enjoyed the work as an entertaining book, and the many editions were a proof of its popularity. Between the first and second parts of Don Quixote a period of great literary activity intervenes. He published among other works some stories which were full of incident, and are said to have inspired Sir Walter Scott with the idea of writing the Waverley Novels. Before the second part of Don Quixote appeared, a spurious second part was issued, as to whose authorship there is some controversy, but the general opinion is that it was the work of one Aliaga, the confessor of the Duke of Lerma, and Lope de Vega is not without suspicion of haying been concerned in the attempt to bring a brother dramatist into contempt. In 1615 Cervantes's own second part appeared, and quickly demolished the reputation of the spurious one. The fame of the work spread through many lands, since, like Shakspeare, Cervantes wrote for all time, and foreigners who visited Madrid made it their first business to inquire after the author of Dim Quixote. He died in the same year and almost on the same day as Shakspeare; and his country, that cared little for him during life, cannot now say what became of his bones. But the principle that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church is as true of literature as of other religions, and Cervantes's country extends far beyond Spain. There are few to whom Don Quixote is not dear, or who have not enjoyed the mingled shrewdness and simplicity of Sancho. Had Sancho not existed we should never have seen a Planchet or an Andrew Fairservice.