Pepys and Cervantes

To mark the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ death, Prof. Juan A. Prieto-Pablos from the University of Seville has kindly written a blog post about the collection of Cervantes’ works in the Pepys Library.  The library holds four works by Cervantes including the first illustrated edition of Don Quixote in Spanish. 

‘Samuel Pepys mentions Cervantes’s novel Don Quixote just once in his diary; it is on account of a frightening experience that he and his household had one morning in November 1667, when they heard strange loud noises and suspected that they were being burgled. He eventually found out that the noise had been caused by chimney sweeps working next door in the early hours of the morning. He calls this “one of the most extraordinary accidents in [his] life,” and one that served him to recall “Don Quixot’s adventures [and] how people may be surprized”(1) by leaps of fancy. Latham and Matthews, the editors of the Diary, explain that “Pepys is presumably thinking of the adventure with the fulling mills”,(2) when Don Quixote was barely able to sleep through the night because of the thudding sound of the mill hammers not far from where he had camped.

Frontispiece and Title Pages of PL 912 and 913: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra :
Vida y hechos del ingeniosos Cavallero Don Quixote de la Mancha. 
(En Bruselas, de la emprenta de Juan Mommarte, 1662)

The event is not among Don Quixote’s most widely popular or widely known adventures, such as the ’tilting at windmills’ episode.  It may well be that Pepys knew about the event from the original work in Spanish: English translations of the text were scarce before 1670, and the only copy of Don Quixote in the library published before 1667, when Pepys made reference to the story in his diary, is in Spanish. Printed in Brussels in 1662, this is a fine edition, “corregida y ilustrada con diferentes Estampas muy donosas” (corrected and illustrated with various pleasant plates), which still holds its nearly pristine condition.  It is the first illustrated edition of Don Quixote in Spanish.

Title pages of PL 2029: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra:
The History of the Valorous and Witty Knight Errant, Don Quixote of the Mancha.
(London: Printed for R. Scott, T. Basset, J. Wright, R. Chiswell, 1675) and
(London: Printed by Richard Hodgkinson, An. Dom. 1672)

This does not discount the possibility that Pepys may have read English translations of Don Quixote prior to the entry in his diary in 1667, for Howard Nixon comments that Pepys disposed of earlier copies of books when he purchased new ones.(3) Pepys did keep The History of the Valorous and Witty Knight Errant, Don Quixote, of the Mancha. Translated out of the Spanish, now newly Corrected and Amended, published in 1675.  Part two has a separate title page, with the imprint “printed by Richard Hodgkinson, an.Dom. 1672”.

PL 1552(1)

Title pages of PL 1552(1): Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra:
Novelas exemplares de Miguel de Cervantes
(Sevilla, por Iuan Gomez de Blas, 1664)

Another Spanish copy of a work by Cervantes, the Novelas Exemplares (1664), is also in an almost pristine condition.

Stephen Gaselee argues that Pepys could both speak and read Spanish(4) — a sensible argument if one considers that Pepys compiled 185 titles on a wide variety of topics in this language. If he read the Spanish versions of Cervantes’ works, however, there is virtually no physical trace of him on their pages. The English copy, on the other hand, has quite a few traces of usage: stains seemingly caused by liquid drops and tobacco can be found every now and then. Fancy might be allowed to play a small role now, to picture Pepys reading (or, better, re-reading) Don Quixote with a bottle of wine and a pipe by his side.’

 by Prof. Juan A. Prieto-Pablos, Universidad de Sevilla

edited by Catherine Sutherland, Deputy Librarian, Pepys Library and Special Collections


(1)Samuel Pepys, The diary of Samuel Pepys : a new and complete transcription Volume 8, ed. by Robert Latham and William Matthews (London: G. Bell, 1974), p. 553

(2) Ibid.

(3)Catalogue of the Pepys Library at Magdalene College Cambridge, Volume 6: Bindings, compiled by Howard Nixon (London: D S Brewer, 1984), p.xiv

(4)Stephen Gaselee, The Spanish Books in the Library of Samuel Pepys, (Oxford: Bibliographical Society, 1921), p.5

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  1. Pingback: Cymric items in the Pepys Library – Magdalene College Libraries

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