A random.random() Joseph Wilbrand Weblog

A random.random() Joseph Wilbrand Weblog

September 19: Don Quixote – Chapter VI


Don Quixote contains a seminal book-burning scene. A priest (curate) and a barber are trying to cure our hero of his knightly obsessions by burning his library of chivalric adventures, going through it one work at a time to decide the fate of each (a Cervantes book survives, of course). As Ilan Stavans of Amherst College pointed out, the scene is a commentary on the censorship of Cervantes’ day. “Cervantes was a lover of books,” another Cervantes scholar, Frederick de Armas, said by email, “and never would have burned one.”

The priest and the barber begin an inquisition into Don Quixote’s library to burn the books of chivalry. Though the housekeeper wants merely to exorcise any spirits with holy water, Don Quixote’s niece prefers to burn all the books. Over the niece’s and the housekeeper’s objections, the priest insists on reading each book’s title before condemning it. He knows many of the stories and saves several of the books due to their rarity or style. He suggests that all the poetry be saved but decides against it because the niece fears that Don Quixote will then become a poet—a vocation even worse than knight-errant. The priest soon discovers a book by Cervantes, who he claims is a friend of his. He says that Cervantes’s work has clever ideas but that it never fulfills its potential. He decides to keep the novel, expecting that the sequel Cervantes has promised will eventually be published.

Cervantes writes this scene as if it were an inquisition, with the curate and barber putting the books on trial and then passing sentence. This device serves to show not only how extensive Don Quixote’s readings are, but how familiar these volumes are to everyone who has the ability to read. The curate and the barber, speaking of the merits of each book, show themselves to be almost as extravagant as Don Quixote. They take the literature very seriously in order to accuse books as being the cause of the Don’s madness in the first place. The inquisitors are, however, interested in saving a few of the works from the fire, and these innocents are put aside in another pile.


He was still sleeping; so the curate asked the niece for the
keys of the room where the books, the authors of all the
mischief, were, and right willingly she gave them. They all
went in, the housekeeper with them, and found more than a
hundred volumes of big books very well bound, and some
other small ones. The moment the housekeeper saw them
she turned about and ran out of the room, and came back
immediately with a saucer of holy water and a sprinkler,
saying, “Here, your worship, señor licentiate, sprinkle this
room; don’t leave any magician of the many there are in
these books to bewitch us in revenge for our design of
banishing them from the world.”

The simplicity of the housekeeper made the licentiate
laugh, and he directed the barber to give him the books one
by one to see what they were about, as there might be
some to be found among them that did not deserve the
penalty of fire.

“No,” said the niece, “there is no reason for showing
mercy to any of them; they have every one of them done
mischief; better fling them out of the window into the court
and make a pile of them and set fire to them; or else carry
them into the yard, and there a bonfire can be made without
the smoke giving any annoyance.” The housekeeper said
the same, so eager were they both for the slaughter of
those innocents, but the curate would not agree to it
without first reading at any rate the titles.

The first that Master Nicholas put into his hand was “The
four books of Amadis of Gaul.” “This seems a mysterious
thing,” said the curate, “for, as I have heard say, this was
the first book of chivalry printed in Spain, and from this all
the others derive their birth and origin; so it seems to me
that we ought inexorably to condemn it to the flames as the
founder of so vile a sect.”

“Nay, sir,” said the barber, “I too, have heard say that this
is the best of all the books of this kind that have been
written, and so, as something singular in its line, it ought to
be pardoned.”

“True,” said the curate; “and for that reason let its life be
spared for the present. Let us see that other which is next to

“It is,” said the barber, “the ‘Sergas de Esplandian,’ the
lawful son of Amadis of Gaul.”

“Then verily,” said the curate, “the merit of the father
must not be put down to the account of the son. Take it,
mistress housekeeper; open the window and fling it into the
yard and lay the foundation of the pile for the bonfire we are
to make.”

The housekeeper obeyed with great satisfaction, and the
worthy “Esplandian” went flying into the yard to await with
all patience the fire that was in store for him.

“Proceed,” said the curate.

“This that comes next,” said the barber, “is ‘Amadis of
Greece,’ and, indeed, I believe all those on this side are of
the same Amadis lineage.”

“Then to the yard with the whole of them,” said the
curate; “for to have the burning of Queen Pintiquiniestra,
and the shepherd Darinel and his eclogues, and the
bedevilled and involved discourses of his author, I would
burn with them the father who begot me if he were going
about in the guise of a knight-errant.”

“I am of the same mind,” said the barber.

“And so am I,” added the niece.

“In that case,” said the housekeeper, “here, into the yard
with them!”

They were handed to her, and as there were many of
them, she spared herself the staircase, and flung them
down out of the window.

“Who is that tub there?” said the curate.

“This,” said the barber, “is ‘Don Olivante de Laura.’”

“The author of that book,” said the curate, “was the same
that wrote ‘The Garden of Flowers,’ and truly there is no
deciding which of the two books is the more truthful, or, to
put it better, the less lying; all I can say is, send this one
into the yard for a swaggering fool.”

“This that follows is ‘Florismarte of Hircania,’” said the

“Señor Florismarte here?” said the curate; “then by my
faith he must take up his quarters in the yard, in spite of his
marvellous birth and visionary adventures, for the stiffness
and dryness of his style deserve nothing else; into the yard
with him and the other, mistress housekeeper.”

“With all my heart, señor,” said she, and executed the
order with great delight.

“This,” said the barber, “is ‘The Knight Platir.’”

“An old book that,” said the curate, “but I find no reason
for clemency in it; send it after the others without appeal;”
which was done.

Another book was opened, and they saw it was entitled,
“The Knight of the Cross.”

“For the sake of the holy name this book has,” said the
curate, “its ignorance might be excused; but then, they say,
‘behind the cross there’s the devil;’ to the fire with it.”

Taking down another book, the barber said, “This is ‘The
Mirror of Chivalry.’”

“I know his worship,” said the curate; “that is where Señor
Reinaldos of Montalvan figures with his friends and
comrades, greater thieves than Cacus, and the Twelve Peers
of France with the veracious historian Turpin; however, I am
not for condemning them to more than perpetual
banishment, because, at any rate, they have some share in
the invention of the famous Matteo Boiardo, whence too the
Christian poet Ludovico Ariosto wove his web, to whom, if I
find him here, and speaking any language but his own, I
shall show no respect whatever; but if he speaks his own
tongue I will put him upon my head.”

“Well, I have him in Italian,” said the barber, “but I do not
understand him.”

“Nor would it be well that you should understand him,”
said the curate, “and on that score we might have excused
the Captain if he had not brought him into Spain and turned
him into Castilian. He robbed him of a great deal of his
natural force, and so do all those who try to turn books
written in verse into another language, for, with all the pains
they take and all the cleverness they show, they never can
reach the level of the originals as they were first produced.
In short, I say that this book, and all that may be found
treating of those French affairs, should be thrown into or
deposited in some dry well, until after more consideration it
is settled what is to be done with them; excepting always
one ‘Bernardo del Carpio’ that is going about, and another
called ‘Roncesvalles;’ for these, if they come into my hands,
shall pass at once into those of the housekeeper, and from
hers into the fire without any reprieve.”

To all this the barber gave his assent, and looked upon it
as right and proper, being persuaded that the curate was so
staunch to the Faith and loyal to the Truth that he would not
for the world say anything opposed to them. Opening
another book he saw it was “Palmerin de Oliva,” and beside
it was another called “Palmerin of England,” seeing which
the licentiate said, “Let the Olive be made firewood of at
once and burned until no ashes even are left; and let that
Palm of England be kept and preserved as a thing that
stands alone, and let such another case be made for it as
that which Alexander found among the spoils of Darius and
set aside for the safe keeping of the works of the poet
Homer. This book, gossip, is of authority for two reasons,
first because it is very good, and secondly because it is said
to have been written by a wise and witty king of Portugal. All
the adventures at the Castle of Miraguarda are excellent
and of admirable contrivance, and the language is polished
and clear, studying and observing the style befitting the
speaker with propriety and judgment. So then, provided it
seems good to you, Master Nicholas, I say let this and
‘Amadis of Gaul’ be remitted the penalty of fire, and as for
all the rest, let them perish without further question or

“Nay, gossip,” said the barber, “for this that I have here is
the famous ‘Don Belianis.’”

“Well,” said the curate, “that and the second, third, and
fourth parts all stand in need of a little rhubarb to purge
their excess of bile, and they must be cleared of all that
stuff about the Castle of Fame and other greater
affectations, to which end let them be allowed the over-seas
term, and, according as they mend, so shall mercy or justice
be meted out to them; and in the mean time, gossip, do you
keep them in your house and let no one read them.”
“With all my heart,” said the barber; and not caring to tire
himself with reading more books of chivalry, he told the
housekeeper to take all the big ones and throw them into
the yard. It was not said to one dull or deaf, but to one who
enjoyed burning them more than weaving the broadest and
finest web that could be; and seizing about eight at a time,
she flung them out of the window.

In carrying so many together she let one fall at the feet of
the barber, who took it up, curious to know whose it was,
and found it said, “History of the Famous Knight, Tirante el

“God bless me!” said the curate with a shout, “‘Tirante el
Blanco’ here! Hand it over, gossip, for in it I reckon I have
found a treasury of enjoyment and a mine of recreation.
Here is Don Kyrieleison of Montalvan, a valiant knight, and
his brother Thomas of Montalvan, and the knight Fonseca,
with the battle the bold Tirante fought with the mastiff, and
the witticisms of the damsel Placerdemivida, and the loves
and wiles of the widow Reposada, and the empress in love
with the squire Hipolito—in truth, gossip, by right of its style
it is the best book in the world. Here knights eat and sleep,
and die in their beds, and make their wills before dying, and
a great deal more of which there is nothing in all the other
books. Nevertheless, I say he who wrote it, for deliberately
composing such fooleries, deserves to be sent to the galleys
for life. Take it home with you and read it, and you will see
that what I have said is true.”

“As you will,” said the barber; “but what are we to do with
these little books that are left?”

“These must be, not chivalry, but poetry,” said the curate;
and opening one he saw it was the “Diana” of Jorge de
Montemayor, and, supposing all the others to be of the
same sort, “these,” he said, “do not deserve to be burned
like the others, for they neither do nor can do the mischief
the books of chivalry have done, being books of
entertainment that can hurt no one.”

“Ah, señor!” said the niece, “your worship had better
order these to be burned as well as the others; for it would
be no wonder if, after being cured of his chivalry disorder,
my uncle, by reading these, took a fancy to turn shepherd
and range the woods and fields singing and piping; or, what
would be still worse, to turn poet, which they say is an
incurable and infectious malady.”

“The damsel is right,” said the curate, “and it will be well
to put this stumbling-block and temptation out of our
friend’s way. To begin, then, with the ‘Diana’ of Montemayor.
I am of opinion it should not be burned, but that it should be
cleared of all that about the sage Felicia and the magic
water, and of almost all the longer pieces of verse: let it
keep, and welcome, its prose and the honour of being the
first of books of the kind.”

“This that comes next,” said the barber, “is the ‘Diana,’
entitled the ‘Second Part, by the Salamancan,’ and this
other has the same title, and its author is Gil Polo.”
“As for that of the Salamancan,” replied the curate, “let it
go to swell the number of the condemned in the yard, and
let Gil Polo’s be preserved as if it came from Apollo himself:
but get on, gossip, and make haste, for it is growing late.”
“This book,” said the barber, opening another, “is the ten
books of the ‘Fortune of Love,’ written by Antonio de
Lofraso, a Sardinian poet.”

“By the orders I have received,” said the curate, “since
Apollo has been Apollo, and the Muses have been Muses,
and poets have been poets, so droll and absurd a book as
this has never been written, and in its way it is the best and
the most singular of all of this species that have as yet
appeared, and he who has not read it may be sure he has
never read what is delightful. Give it here, gossip, for I make
more account of having found it than if they had given me a
cassock of Florence stuff.”

He put it aside with extreme satisfaction, and the barber
went on, “These that come next are ‘The Shepherd of
Iberia,’ ‘Nymphs of Henares,’ and ‘The Enlightenment of

“Then all we have to do,” said the curate, “is to hand
them over to the secular arm of the housekeeper, and ask
me not why, or we shall never have done.”

“This next is the ‘Pastor de Fílida.’”

“No Pastor that,” said the curate, “but a highly polished
courtier; let it be preserved as a precious jewel.”
“This large one here,” said the barber, “is called ‘The
Treasury of various Poems.’”

“If there were not so many of them,” said the curate,
“they would be more relished: this book must be weeded
and cleansed of certain vulgarities which it has with its
excellences; let it be preserved because the author is a
friend of mine, and out of respect for other more heroic and
loftier works that he has written.”

“This,” continued the barber, “is the ‘Cancionero’ of Lopez
de Maldonado.”

“The author of that book, too,” said the curate, “is a great
friend of mine, and his verses from his own mouth are the
admiration of all who hear them, for such is the sweetness
of his voice that he enchants when he chants them: it gives
rather too much of its eclogues, but what is good was never
yet plentiful: let it be kept with those that have been set
apart. But what book is that next it?”

“The ‘Galatea’ of Miguel de Cervantes,” said the barber.
“That Cervantes has been for many years a great friend of
mine, and to my knowledge he has had more experience in
reverses than in verses. His book has some good invention
in it, it presents us with something but brings nothing to a
conclusion: we must wait for the Second Part it promises:
perhaps with amendment it may succeed in winning the full
measure of grace that is now denied it; and in the mean
time do you, señor gossip, keep it shut up in your own

“Very good,” said the barber; “and here come three
together, the ‘Araucana’ of Don Alonso de Ercilla, the
‘Austriada’ of Juan Rufo, Justice of Cordova, and the
‘Montserrate’ of Christobal de Virués, the Valencian poet.”
“These three books,” said the curate, “are the best that
have been written in Castilian in heroic verse, and they may
compare with the most famous of Italy; let them be
preserved as the richest treasures of poetry that Spain

The curate was tired and would not look into any more
books, and so he decided that, “contents uncertified,” all
the rest should be burned; but just then the barber held
open one, called “The Tears of Angelica.”

“I should have shed tears myself,” said the curate when
he heard the title, “had I ordered that book to be burned, for
its author was one of the famous poets of the world, not to
say of Spain, and was very happy in the translation of some
of Ovid’s fables.”

Ricardo Balaca (1844-1880), Illustration for ‘El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha’ (1880-1883), vol 1, Montaner y Simon, Barcelona, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.
Artist not known, Illustration for ‘El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha’ (c 1879), further details not known. Wikimedia Commons.
Ricardo Balaca (1844-1880), Illustration for ‘El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de la Mancha’ (1880-1883), vol 1, Montaner y Simon, Barcelona, Spain. Wikimedia Commons.