I FIND in the Segraisiana this authentic anecdote concerning the inimitable Cervantes.
Mr. du Boulay accompanied the French ambassador to Spain, when Cervantes was yet alive. He has told me, that the ambassador one day complimented Cervantes on the great reputation he had acquired by his Don Quixote; and that Cervantes whispered in his ear, “Had it not been for the Inquisition, I should have made my book much more entertaining.”
Cervantes, at the battle of Lepanto, was wounded and enslaved. He has given his own history in Don Quixote. He was known at the court of Spain, but he did not receive those favours which might have been expected; he was neglected.—His first volume is the finest; and his design was to have finished there; but he could not resist the importunities of his friends, who engaged him to make a second, which has not the same force, although it has many splendid passages.
We have lost many good things of Cervantes, and other writers, amongst the tribunal of religion and dulness. One Aonius Palearius was sensible of this; and said, “that the Inquisition was a poniard aimed at the throat of literature.” The image is striking, and the observation just; but the ingenious observer was in consequence immediately led to the stake.
¶ This article is slightly revised from its original in early (1790s) editions of the Curiosities. In the piece’s earlier state, the opening sentence assure us that ‘Every trifling information concerning a great man, to his admirers ceases to be such.’ The closing words above: ‘led to the stake,’ replace the earlier, monosyllabic ‘burnt!’