Sunday, February 12, 2012

(an excerpt from miguel de cervantes'

novel The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote De La Mancha, translated from spanish by john rutherford.) 

     "Please may I have permission, gentlemen, to tell you a little tale about something that happened in Seville, and that fits the bill so perfectly I've got the urge to tell it?"
     Don Quixote gave him their permission, and the priest and the others gave him their attention, and he began like this:
     "In the Seville madhouse there was a man whose relations had sent him there because he was out of his mind.  He was a graduate in canon law from Osuna University, but in many people's opinion, even if he'd studied at Salamanca itself he'd still have been a madman.  After a few years of confinement, this graduate persuaded himself that he'd recovered and was sane, and in this belief he wrote to the archbishop begging him in measured and well-chosen words to have him released from the wretched situation in which he was living, because God in his infinite mercy had restored his lost wits, although his relations were keeping him there so as to continue using the income form his property and, regardless of the truth, were determined that he'd stay mad until his dying day.  The archbishop, impressed by so many well-reasoned, intelligent letters, told one of his chaplains to find out from the madhouse governor whether what the graduate claimed was true, to talk to the madman and, if he seemed to be sane, to have him released.  The chaplain did as he was told and the governor informed him that the man was still mad: although he often spoke like a person with an excellent understanding, he always ended up by breaking out into absurdities that counterbalanced the sensible things he'd said at the beginning, in both quantity and quality, as anyone could find out for himself by talking to him.  The chaplain decided to do this, he was put in with the madman and they spoke for upwards of an hour, during which time the madman didn't utter a single crazy or foolish word; on the contrary, everything he said was so rational that the chaplain was forced to conclude that the madman was sane.  The madman said, among other things, that the governor remained hostile so as not to forfeit the presents that his relations were provided for saying he was still mad, with lucid intervals; and that his greatest bane in his misfortunes was his wealth, because his enemies, to continue enjoying it, had recourse to criminal fraud and threw doubts upon the blessing that our Lord had bestowed upon him in turning him back from a beast into a man.  In short, his words made the governor look suspicious, his relations covetous and heartless, and himself so full of good sense that the chaplain decided to take him away so that the archbishop could examine him and discover the truth for himself.
     The worthy chaplain, in all good faith, asked the governor to have the clothes in which the graduate had arrived returned to him; the governor again told the chaplain to watch his step, because the graduate was beyond a doubt still mad.  None of the governor's warnings and advice not to take the graduate with him made any impression on the chaplain; the governor obeyed, seeing that the order came from the archbishop; the graduate was dressed in his own clothes, which were new and respectable ones.  Finding himself dressed in his sanity and stripped of his lunacy, he asked the chaplain to be so charitable as to give him permission to go and say goodbye to his friends the madmen.  The chaplain said that he would like to go with him and see the madmen in the house.  So they all climbed the stairs with some other people who were present, and the graduate walked over to a cage containing a raging lunatic, although at that moment calm and collected, and said:   
     'Is there anything I can do for you, my dear friend?  I'm going home, because God has seen fit at last, in his infinite goodness and mercy, and without my having done anything to deserve it, to restore my sanity: I'm in my right mind again, because to all-powerful God nothing is impossible.  You must put great hope and trust in him, because he has restored me to my former state and he'll restore you too, if you have faith in him. I'll take good care to send you some fine food, and you be sure to eat it; because let me tell you, it's my opinion, having been through all this myself, that our madness comes from having our stomachs empty of food and our brains full of air.  Take heart, take heart - letting your troubles get you down undermines your health and hastens your death.'
     A madman in the cage opposite that of the raging lunatic overheard everything the graduate said; and getting up from an old mat on which he was lying naked, he cried out asking who this fellow was that was going away in his right mind.  The graduate replied:
     'It's me, my dear friend, who's going away - I don't have to stay here any longer, for which I give infinite thanks to heaven that has sent me this wonderful blessing.'
     'You mind what you're saying, graduate, watch out for the devil and his tricks," the madman replied.  'Control those itchy feet of yours and stay right here at home, and you'll save yourself the return journey.'
     'I know I'm well,' the graduate replied, 'and I won't ever have to go on my rounds again.'
     'You, well?' cried the madman.  'We'll soon see about that!  God go with you; but I swear by Jupiter, whose majesty I represent on earth, that just for this sin Seville is committing today in releasing you from this house and considering you to be sane, I shall inflict a punishment on the city that will be remembered for ever and ever, amen.  Don't you realize, you puny little wretch of a graduate, that I can do just that, because, as I have said, I am thundering Jupiter, and I hold in my hands the burning bolts which I can and often do threaten and destroy the world?  And yet I shall inflict only one punishment on this ignorant town:  I shall not rain here or in this entire district for three whole years, counting from this day and this moment at which this threat is made.  You free, you healthy, you sane?  And me mad, me ill, me tied up?  I'll hang myself sooner than start raining!'
     The madman's bellowed words riveted everybody's attention; but our graduate, turning to the chaplain and gripping his hands, said:
     'Don't you worry, sir, and don't you take any notice of what this madman said, because if he's Jupiter and doesn't want to rain, I, Neptune, the father and the god of water, will rain as often as I like and as is required."
     To which the chaplain replied:
     'All the same, my lord Neptune, it will not be a good idea to annoy my lord Jupiter: you stay here at home, and we'll come back for you another day at a more suitable moment, when we have more time.'
     The governor and all the others laughed, which made the chaplain feel something of a fool; they stripped the graduate, he stayed at home and that's the end of the story."