D ON QUIXOTE went on saying: “Since we began with poverty in students and its various aspects, let’s see if the soldier is any richer. We’ll see that there is no one poorer in poverty, because he’s dependent on his miserable wages—that arrive late or never—or whatever he can steal with his hands, with quite a bit of danger to his life and conscience. At times he’s so tattered that a slashed jacket serves him both as dress uniform and a nightshirt, and in the middle of winter he has to shelter himself against the cold, in the open field, with only the breath from his mouth, and since it comes from an empty place, I can assure you that it comes out cold, contrary to the laws of nature. Just let him wait for night to come so that he can be restored from these discomforts in the bed that awaits him, which will never be guilty of being too narrow, because he can measure however much of the ground he wants, and toss and turn to his heart’s content, without fearing he’ll rumple his sheets.
“Finally the day and the hour comes for him to receive the diploma; that is, finally the day of battle arrives, and there they’ll put the tassel on his academic cap in the form of bandages, to treat a gunshot wound that may have pierced his temples, or will leave him crippled in his arm or leg. And if this doesn’t happen, and heaven keeps him safe and sound, it may be that he’ll go back to the same poverty as before. And if he’s to get promoted he’ll need another fight, another battle. But these miracles rarely come.
“But tell me, ladies and gentlemen, if you’ve thought about it—how many fewer are rewarded by war than those who have perished in it? You’ll doubtless have to respond that there is no comparison—the dead cannot be counted and those who are living and have been decorated number less than a thousand. It’s just the opposite with men of letters, who, legally or illegally, manage to sustain themselves. So, although the labor of the soldier is greater, the reward is much less. But you may answer back that it’s easier to reward two thousand men of letters than thirty thousand soldiers, because the former are rewarded by giving them appointments that have to be given to those of their profession, and the latter cannot be rewarded except from the funds of the master whom they serve, but this impossibility only serves to strengthen my argument.
“But let’s let this be, because it’s a labyrinth difficult to get out of, and let’s go back to the superiority of arms over letters, a matter that has not yet been resolved, because the arguments advanced on both sides are so good. Letters say that arms cannot exist without them, because war also has its own laws that must be obeyed, and laws are the profession of the man of letters. Arms respond to this saying that letters cannot sustain themselves without arms, because with arms, republics are defended, kingdoms are preserved, cities are protected, highways are made safe, and the seas cleared of corsairs. Finally, if there were no arms, you can bet that republics, kingdoms, monarchies, cities, and highways of the sea and land would all be subject to the ruin and disorder of war.
“It’s a well known fact that what costs the most is esteemed, and should be esteemed the most. If someone achieves eminence in letters, it costs him time, loss of sleep, hunger, nakedness, headaches, indigestion, and other things associated with it. But for one to become a good soldier, it costs him everything it costs a student, but in such a larger degree that there is no comparison possible, because at every step he’s in danger of losing his life. And what fear of need or poverty can threaten a student compared to what a soldier faces, finding himself surrounded in a fortress, or keeping watch at a guard post, hearing his enemy tunneling toward where he is, and he cannot leave his post under any circumstance, nor flee from the danger that threatens him so nearby? All he can do is inform his captain what is happening—so that he can try to destroy the tunnel—and stay there quietly, fearing and expecting that at any moment he’ll go flying to the clouds without wings, and crash to the ground against his will.
“And if this appears to be just a slight danger, let’s see if it’s equaled or surpassed when two galleys attack each other, prow to prow, in the middle of the spacious sea, locked and lashed together so that the soldier has no more room than the point of the prow to stand on. But he, seeing that there are so many ministers of death before him who threaten him as there are cannons, which are not a lance-length away, and seeing that at the first mis-step he would go to visit Neptune’s bottomless gulf, nonetheless, with a brave heart, impelled by the honor that inspires him, uses himself as a target for all that musketry, and tries to forge a way onto the enemy ship. And what should be admired the most is that hardly has one fallen to where he cannot be raised until the end of time, when another takes his place, and if this one also falls into the sea—which itself waits for him like an enemy—another and another follow him, without any time between their deaths. This is the greatest bravery and daring that can be found in any of the perils of war.
“Happy and blessed were the ages that lacked the dreaded fury of those devilish instruments of artillery—whose inventor I’m convinced must be in hell as a reward for his diabolical invention—with which it’s possible for a despicable and cowardly arm to take the life of a brave knight, who—without knowing how or from where—just at the moment when courage and dash inflames and emboldens his valiant heart, along comes a stray bullet, discharged by someone who may have fled in terror and then was startled by the flash from his infernal device, whose shot cuts short in an instant the thoughts and life of a person who deserved to live many centuries.
“So, considering this, I’m almost about to say that in my heart I’m sorry I took up this calling as a knight errant in such a detestable age as is the one we live in, because, although I fear no danger, still it troubles me to think that powder and bullets can take my chance away to be famous throughout the known world by the might of my arm and the blade of my sword. But heaven’s will be done. If I succeed in my plan, I shall be even more esteemed than the knights errant of old because I’m subject to greater dangers.”
While the others ate dinner, don Quixote delivered this long speech, forgetting to put a morsel into his mouth, even though Sancho Panza told him to eat once in a while, since he could say everything he wanted to afterwards. Those who were listening to him had renewed pity for him, seeing that a man of such high intelligence and such good reasoning in everything else he spoke about, should lose them so entirely when dealing with his cursed chivalry. The priest told him he was correct in everything he said in favor of arms, and he, although a man of letters and a university graduate, was of the same opinion.
They finished dining, and the tablecloth was removed; and while the innkeeper’s wife, her daughter, and Maritornes were getting don Quixote de La Mancha’s former loft ready—that was where they arranged for all of the women to sleep that night—don Fernando begged the captive to tell them the story of his life, because it would doubtless be exotic and pleasing, judging from the hints he’d begun to give when he arrived with Zoraida. The captive responded that he would be very pleased to do what he was asked, but he only feared it wouldn’t give them as much pleasure as he wished—nevertheless, he would tell it to them so as to comply with his request. The priest and everyone else thanked him, and once again asked him to tell his story. And he, seeing himself beseeched by so many, said that so much urging wasn’t necessary since don Fernando’s command carried so much weight.
“So, let your graces be attentive, and you’ll hear a true story. And it may be that fictitious ones written with ingenious and studied art might not be its equal.”
With this, he said that everyone should get comfortable and give him complete silence, and when he saw that everyone was quiet and was waiting to hear what he had to say, with a pleasant but quiet voice he began in this way: