An Understanding of Don Quixote and His Loyal Companion Sancho the Winetaster

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                       6 November 2019

Pope Saint Martin I (d. 654)

Epigraphs

“One has to accept sorrow for it to be of any healing power, and that is the most difficult thing in the world….A priest once said to me, ‘When you understand what accepted sorrow means, you will understand everything. It is the secret of life.’” (Maurice Baring, Darby and Joan (London: William Heinemann LTD, 1935), page 178—italic in the original)

***

“What then is this Sloth which can merit the extremity of divine punishment? Saint Thomas’ answer is both comforting and surprising: tristitia de bono spirituali, sadness in the face of spiritual good. Man is made for joy in the love of God, a love which he expresses in service. If he deliberately turns away from that joy, he is denying the purpose of his existence. The malice of Sloth lies not merely in the neglect of duty (though that can be a symptom of it) but in the refusal of joy. It is allied to despair.” (Evelyn Waugh, “Sloth,” in The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh (Edited by Donat Gallagher) (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1983), page 573—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

***

“I grant you [that form of praise],” replied Sancho…. But tell me, sir, in the name of what you love most, is this the wine of Ciudad Real [its famous Valdepeñas wine]?”

What a winetaster you are! [said the candid other Squire.] It comes from nowhere else [i.e., from “the chief city of La Mancha and center of a winegrowing district”], and it’s a few years old, at that!”

Leave it to me,” said Sancho, “and never fear, I’ll show you how much I know about it. Would you believe me, Sir Squire, I have such a great natural instinct in the matter of wines that I have but to smell a vintage and I will tell you the country where it was grown, from what kind of grapes, what it tastes like, and how good it is, and everything that has to do with it. There is nothing unusual about this, however, seeing that on my father’s side were two of the best winetasters La Mancha has known in many a year, in proof of which, listen to the story of what happened to them…And so your Grace may see for yourself whether on not one who comes of that kind of stock has a right to give his opinion in such cases.” (Miguel de Cervantes, The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de La Mancha (Translated by Samuel Putnam) (New York: The Modern Library, 1949), pages 589-590—my emphasis added—Book II, Chapter 13). Part I was first published in 1605; Part II was first published in 1615, one year before Cervantes’ death.

***

The profound and appreciative author of The Shadow of Cervantes, D. B. Wyndham Lewis,1 modestly allows us to consider, though merely in passing, two of his own brief passages on Miguel Cervantes and Don Quixote. These two passages taken together, in a sort of clarifying counterpoint, will impart some worthy insights to us that will deepen our understanding of Don Quixote, and of a mature life and wider literature, as well.

For, Cervantes, I believe, always deftly manifested in Don Quixote a generous (often ironic and comic) combination of presenting “the way things are” along with “the way things ought to be,” despite the spreading cynicism of the World, despite the discouraging and attendant “tristitia saeculi.”

In the first passage for us to reflect upon, Wyndham Lewis says the following:

We may pause a moment to recognize here a theme of major importance to Cervantes and constantly reiterated. Life is treacherous, hard, cruel unpredictable; life is sometimes almost unbearable; life is an unending battle—militia vita hominis, to echo one of the Fathers. But despair, as revealed truth teaches, is a sin against the Holy Ghost, a vile cowardly collapse, the unforgivable thing. Up! Cries the old soldier in a trumpet-voice to the wavering ranks. Quit you like men! No surrender! Fight on! And Miguel de Cervantes, the much-tried, the realist, the dauntless, has plainly better right to rally his fellow-mortals [as he heroically did at the 1571 Battle of Lepanto] than some rosy optimist of the Victorian breed who never took a blow. (100-101—my emphasis added)

The second passage for our further consideration is also, perhaps, a somewhat surprising insight concerning a pervasive “sorrow” and “sadness” in Don Quixote:

Sadness [Dolor (intimate Sorrow); sed nec Tristia Saeculi nec Tristitia de bono spirituali] is the perpetual undersong of Don Quixote, from the day on which the gentle, fearless dreamer first rides out on his bony steed to right the world’s wrongs singlehanded to the day on which he returns home to acknowledge his folly, restored to reason and soon to embrace death like a valiant disillusioned Christian man. Even the Spain of Philip III, from which not all the chivalrous graces had fled, had no place for an absurd revenant from a long-distant past, now surviving largely in the imaginations of romancers who might almost—if the thought be not treason—be called the sub-Scotts [cf. Sir Walter Scott as author of the Romantic Historical Novels] of their period. Creating an array of medieval puppets sufficiently decorative, Scott patently knew and cared nothing about authentic mechanism [of the Chivalric Tale]. His camp-followers, not to speak of their public, knew if possible less. The romancers due to become Cervantes’ targets, contrariwise knew the mechanism but, as may shortly be perceived, deliberately perverted it. To burlesque their worst [literary] rubbish was therefore not only a brilliant inspiration but a public service. Others than Cervantes were attacking the libros de cabellerías [books of chivalry] from other angles….

It may be too that Cervantes felt…a nostalgia for that lost aroma, pure and lovely and fragrant, the true quintessence of chivalry, to be found in the thirteenth-century masterpieces like La Queste del Sainct Graal [the Quest of the Holy Grail]….Throughout the Queste runs the golden thread of knightly reverence for womanhood in honour of the Immaculata which…was in truth one of the saving graces of a rough and bloody age.

Then were the natural charities exhaled Afresh from out the blessed love of Mary… (120-121—my emphasis added)

When we now savor the later passage of Don Quixote –in Book II, Chapter XIII—we may winsomely see both the loyalty of Sancho Panza to his master as well as his showing himself to another Squire to be, indeed, a very gifted winetaster rooted, on his father’s side, in vintage-rich and nourishing family traditions!

It is difficult for me to present only selected passages from Chapter XIII of Part II without also adding a consideration and commentary upon this exceptionally charming Chapter. May my few selections somehow inspire the reader’s resolution to read soon and savor the entire chapter (pages 585-590 in the Putnam translation).

Cervantes’ introductory note to Chapter XIII says that it is a Chapter “In which is continued the adventure of the Knight of the Wood [“Knight of the Mirrors”], together with the shrewd, highly original, and amicable conversation that took place between the two squires [Sancho Panza being one of them, the other one being the tall and somewhat rather too comfortable “Squire of the Wood”!].” (585)

But let us now allow the loyal Sancho to speak “as they sat there in the dark” (588):

“There is no road so smooth,” said Sancho, “that it does not have some hole or rut to make you stumble….But if it is true what they say, that company in trouble brings relief, I may take comfort from your Grace, since you serve a master [a lovelorn master] as foolish as my own.”

Foolish but brave,” the one [the Squire] of the Wood corrected him [Sancho], “and more of a rogue than anything else.”

This is not true of my master,” replied Sancho. “I can assure you there is nothing of the rogue about him; he is as open and aboveboard as a wine pitcher and would not harm anyone but does good to all. There is no malice in his make-up, and a child could help him believe it was night at midday. For that reason I love him with all my heart and cannot bring myself to leave him, no matter how many foolish things he does.”….

Sancho kept clearing his throat from time to time, and his saliva seemed rather viscous and dry; seeing which, the woodland squire said to him, “It looks to me as if we have been talking so much that our tongues are cleaving to our palates, but I have a loosener over there [a large bota of wine!], hanging from the bow of my saddle, and a pretty good one it is.” With this, he got up and went over to his horse and came back a moment later with a big flask of wine….

“Would you believe me, Sir Squire, I [said Sancho] have such a great natural instinct in this matter of wines that I have but to smell a vintage and I will tell you the country where it was grown, from what kind of grapes, what it tastes like, and how good it is, and everything that to do with it. There is nothing unusual about this, however, seeing that on my father’s side were two of the best winetasters La Mancha has known in many a year, in proof of which, listen to the story of what happened to them.” (588-589—my emphasis added)

And this is the tale he told!

“The two were given a sample of wine from a certain vat and asked to state its condition and quality and determine whether it was good or bad. One of them tasted it with the tip of his tongue while the other merely brought it up to his nose. The first man said that it tasted of iron, the second that it smelled of Cordovon leather. The owner insisted that the vat was clean and that there could be nothing in the wine to give it the flavor of leather or iron, but, nevertheless, the two famous winetasters stood their ground. Time went by, and when they came to clean out the vat they found in it a small key attached to a leather strap. And so your Grace may see for yourself whether or not one who comes of that kind of stock has a right to give his opinion in such cases.” (589-590—my emphasis added)

And what was the response of the other wine-bibbing Squire to Sancho Panza and his story of such an inherited high standard of taste that has been even biologically transmitted? (A touch of evolutionary “Lysenkoism,” perhaps?)

The Squire of the Wood immediately replies and Sancho, by way of anticipation, then gives to him a loyal rejoinder:

“And for that very reason [sic],…I [said the Squire] maintain that we ought to stop going about in search of adventures. Seeing that we have loaves, let us not go looking for cakes, but return to our cottages, for God will find us there if He so wills.”

I mean to stay with my master,” Sancho replied, “until he reaches Saragossa [up in the North], but after that we shall come to an understanding [about Illusion and Reality].”

The short of the matter is, the two worthy squires talked so much and drank so much that sleep had to tie their tongues and moderate their thirst [for wine], since to quench the latter was impossible. Clinging to the wine flask [the large bota again!], which was almost empty by now, and with half-chewed morsels of food in their mouths, they both slept peacefully, and we shall leave them there as we go on to relate what took place between the Knight of the Wood and the Knight of the Mournful Countenance [our beloved Don Quixote of La Mancha].” (590—my bold emphasis and italics added)

We have gratefully seen now but an enticing small portion of the sustained resilience of spirit of the inimitable Don Quixote and his loyal companion, Sancho Panza, who is a vivid Raconteur of warmly infectious Loyal Love, and not only for his Knightly Master.

May we also all come to read and to savor slowly (like the balm of good wine—and perhaps again and again) Miguel Cervantes’ masterpiece, Don Quixote: his tonic gift to us and coming from a generous man who died in penury. He was also buried as a lay member (like his wife later) of a religious order—as a Third Order Franciscan—enduringly grateful, as well, to the chivalrous and self-sacrificing order of Trinitarians and Mercidarians who together rescued him from a severe, merciless Turkish captivity in Algiers.

–Finis–

© 2019 Robert D. Hickson

1D.B Wyndham Lewis, The Shadow of Cervantes (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1962), 190 pages. Henceforth all references to this excellent and detailed work will be placed in parentheses above in the main body of this essay. Although we shall not be able to present a fuller depiction of Cervantes’ Captivity by the Turks (especially in Algiers) and his belatedly successful ransom back to Spain (indispensably helped by the chivalrous, self-sacrificing Trinitarian Order), we earnestly recommend to the reader a thorough savoring of Chapter III of Wyndham Lewis’ book..

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