MIGUEL DE CERVANTES Biography - Writers


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Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), Spanish dramatist, poet, and author wrote Don         
Quixote de la Mancha (Part I, 1605; Part II, 1615);                                     
In a village of La Mancha, the name of which I have no desire to call to mind,         
there lived not long since one of those gentlemen that keep a lance in the lance-rack, 
an old buckler, a lean hack, and a greyhound for coursing. An olla of rather           
more beef than mutton, a salad on most nights, scraps on Saturdays, lentils on         
Fridays, and a pigeon or so extra on Sundays, made away with three-quarters of         
his income. The rest of it went in a doublet of fine cloth and velvet breeches         
and shoes to match for holidays, while on week-days he made a brave figure in           
his best homespun. He had in his house a housekeeper past forty, a niece under         
twenty, and a lad for the field and market-place, who used to saddle the hack as       
well as handle the bill-hook. The age of this gentleman of ours was bordering on       
fifty; he was of a hardy habit, spare, gaunt-featured, a very early riser and a         
great sportsman. They will have it his surname was Quixada or Quesada (for here         
there is some difference of opinion among the authors who write on the subject),       
although from reasonable conjectures it seems plain that he was called Quexana.         
This, however, is of but little importance to our tale; it will be enough not to       
stray a hair's breadth from the truth in the telling of it.-Ch.1                       
Published when Cervantes was fifty-eight years old, his oft-quoted burlesque of         
16th century Spanish society explores the universal themes of human nature "Every       
man is as Heaven made him, and sometimes a great deal worse." (ibid). Don               
Quixote exerted a profound influence on European literature--it was published to       
great success and widely lauded for its satire of existing tales of chivalry and       
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."--ibid,       
Ch. 6                                                                                   
Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra was born in 1547 in the city of Alcalá de Henares,         
near Madrid, Spain, the fourth of seven children born to noble Castilian surgeon       
Don Rodrigo de Cervantes and doña Leonor de Cortinas (d.1593). "There were but         
two families in the world, Have-much and Have-little." (ibid) Rodrigo was               
imprisoned because of debts in 1551, and it brought much hardship to the rest of       
the family. After studying philosophy and literature in Italy, Miguel enlisted         
as a soldier in Naples in 1570. Aboard the ship Marquesa he lost the use of his         
left hand 'by a musket-shot in the battle of Lepanto' [1571] (ibid). A few years       
later the galley that Cervantes was sailing home on was captured by Barbary             
pirates. He was enslaved in Algiers along with many other Christians. While he         
did attempt to escape, it was not until 1580 that his family, especially by the         
efforts of his mother, and the Trinitarians, were able to pay ransom for him.           
Living in Madrid, Cervantes had an affair with Ana de Villafranca, with whom he         
had a daughter, Isabel de Saavedra. In 1584 he married Catalina de Palacios and         
started writing plays and poetry, "The pen is the tongue of the mind." (ibid)           
including a pastoral romance in verse and prose La Galatea (1585), his first           
published work. When his writing produced little income he obtained a position         
with the government, and worked for the Spanish Armada and as a tax collector.         
Many times he ran into financial and other difficulties for which he was               
In 1604, Cervantes and his wife and daughter were living in Valladolid. After           
the publication of Don Quixote they moved back to Madrid. The Exemplary Novels         
of Cervantes (Novelas ejemplares) was published in 1613, which includes tales of       
pirates gypsies, inspired by Cervantes' own life experiences. The same year it         
was published, he joined the Third Order of Saint Francis. The second part of           
Don Quixote (1615) was followed by Persiles and Segismunda (1616). Miguel de           
Cervantes died in 1616 and is buried in the Convent of the Barefoot Trinitarians       
(Convento de los Trinitarios) in Madrid, Spain.                                         
"It is so conspicuous and void of difficulty that children may handle him,             
youths may read him, men may understand him, and old men may celebrate him."--from     
The First Part of the Delightful History of the Most Ingenious Knight Don               
Quixote of the Mancha (from Thomas Shelton's 1612 translation)