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Affront Versus Injury

Beard Washing

The Joy of Government

Behaving towards One' Family

Dispensing Justice

Personal Conduct


Judgment in Business

Limits of Punishment

Mercy before Rigor




Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616 CE) was bornin Alcala de Henares, Spain. His father, Rodrigo de Cervantes, was an apothecary-surgeon, which probably meant that he was also a barber. By the age of 22, Cervantes had appeared in print—contributing six pieces to a volume on Philip II’ s third wife, Isabel de Valois—and had visited Rome. He subsequently enrolled in the army and sailed in the armada under Don John of Austria, taking part in the battle of Lepanto. He received three gunshot wounds, including one that permanently maimed his right hand. After recovering, he took part in further naval battles before joining the Spanish garrison at Naples and then at Palermo. On receiving testimonials from Don John and others, he sought to return to Spain but was captured in 1575 by Barbary Corsairs on the voyage back. He became the slave of a  Greek, who held him for ransom. He escaped several times until he was sentenced to death, at which point Hassan Pasha, the viceroy of Algiers, impressed by his courage remitted the sentence and bought Cervantes for five hundred crowns. Further escapes, captures, and negotiations for raising a ransom followed, until Cervantes’ family was able to buy his release in 1580.

Cervantes wrote a great deal between 1583 and 1587, mostly for the stage but also a pastoral novel—an exercise in pseudo-classic literature. But he made little money and took up employment provisioning the Armada, being excommunicated in 1587 for excessive zeal in collecting wheat. In 1590 he applied for posts in the American colonies, but was turned down. When he ran into financial straights, he sought to bolster his funds by writing six plays, but these may not have been successful enough to keep him out of jail. It may have been at this time that he started writing the history of Don Quixote, a comic novel so successful that three pirated editions were immediately issued. Intended to ridicule the romances of chivalry, it magically expanded to paint a picture of the whole of Spanish society with sympathetic insight and genial humanism. The second part of this masterpiece appeared in 1615. Cervantes died of dropsy.

The extracts printed here cover the time when Sancho Panza, the peasant servant of the deluded knight, Don Quixote, was made governor of a land-bound island, set up by a Duke for his own amusement. It is a section where the focus shifts from the comical delusions of the knight errant—originally the Knight of the Rueful Countenance, now the Knight of the Lions—to the earthy humanism of Sancho. And with this shift we find the knight himself discoursing about virtue like a philosopher.



Affront Versus Injury

1     “What,” said the clergyman, “are you that Sancho Panza to whom they say your master has promised an island?” “Ay, by my beard I am,” answered Sancho, “and I am he that deserves it as well as anybody And I am one of those of whom they say, ‘Keep with good men, and you will be one of them’; and of those of whom it is said again, ‘Not with whom you were bred, but with whom you have fed’; as also, ‘Lean against a good tree, and it will shelter you’. I have leaned and stuck close to my good master, and kept him company this many a month; and now he and I are bound together; and I must be as he is, if luck has it; and if he lives and I live, he will not want kingdoms to rule, and I shall not want islands to govern.”

2    “That you will not, honest Sancho,’ said the Duke; “for I, on the great Don Quixote’s account, will now give you the government of an odd one of my own of no small consequence.” 

      “Down, down on your knees, Sancho,” cried Don Quixote, “and kiss his Grace’s feet for this favor.” Sancho did accordingly: but when the clergyman saw it, he jumped up in great indignation. By the habit which I wear,” he cried, “I can scarce refrain from telling your Grace that you are as mad as these sinful wretches. And well may they be mad, when wise men such as you humor and give authority to their frenzy. You may keep them here and reside with them yourself, if your Grace pleases; but, for my part, I will leave you and go home, to save myself the trouble of reproving what I cannot correct.”

3    With that, leaving the rest of his dinner behind him, he stamped off, the Duke and the Duchess not being able to pacify him, though indeed the Duke could not say much to him, for laughing at his impertinent passion. When he had done laughing, he said, “Sir Knight of the Lions you have answered so well for yourself and your profession, that you need no further satisfaction of that angry clergyman; especially when you consider that, whatever he might say, it was not in his power to affront a person of your character, since women and churchmen cannot give an affront.”

4    “Very true, my Lord,” said Don Quixote, “and the reason is because he that cannot receive an affront cannot give one. Women, children, and churchmen, as they cannot vindicate themselves in battle when they are injured, so neither are they capable of receiving an affront. For there is this difference between an affront and an injury, as your Grace very well knows: an affront must come from a person that is both able to give it, and maintain it when he has given it: an injury may be done by any sort of people whatsoever. . .I only wish he could have stayed a little longer, that I might have convinced him of his error in believing there were never any knights-errant in the world. Had Amadis or any one of his innumerable race of knights but heard him say anything like this, I can assure his reverence it would have gone hard with him.”

5    “I will be sworn it would,” said Sancho, “They would have undone him, as you would undo an oyster; and have cleft him from head to foot, as one would slice a pomegranate or a ripe musk-melon, take my word for it. They were a bunch of tough customers and would not have swallowed such a pill. By the bells of hell, I’m dead sure that if Kinaldo of Montalban heard the poor toad talk like that, he would have laid on him such a haymaker across the chops with his shoulder-of-mutton fist as would have stopped his prattle for three years. Yes, if he had fallen into the clutches of those boyos, you can guess how he would have come out again!”


Beard Washing

6    The Duchess was ready to expire with laughing at Sancho, whom she thought a merrier fool, and a greater madman than his master. And she was not the only person at that time of this opinion. In short while, Don Quixote being pacified, they finished dinner. Then, while the servants took away the cloth, there came in four young women, one carrying a silver basin, another an ewer of the same metal, a third some fine towels over her arm, and the fourth, with her sleeves tucked above her elbows, held in her white hand (it was exceedingly white) a large cake of Naples soap. The one with the basin went forward courteously and clapped it under Don Quixote’s chin. He, wondering at this extraordinary ceremony yet fancying it was the custom of the country to wash the face instead of the hands, thrust out his long chin without speaking a word. Then the ewer began to rain on his face, and the young woman that brought the cake of soap fell to work, lathering his beard so efficiently that the suds, like huge flakes of snow, flew all over the passive Knight’s face, so much so that he was forced to shut his eyes.

7    The Duke and Duchess, who knew nothing of this procedure, stood wondering where this extraordinary scouring would end. The female barber, having thus left the Knight’s face to soak hand high in suds, pretended she wanted water, and sent another woman with the ewer for more, telling her the gentleman would stay for it. The she also went, and left him looking the most odd ridiculous figures that can be imagined. There he sat exposed to all the company, with half a yard of neck stretched out, his bristly beard and chops all in a white foam, which did not at all improve his walnut complexion; so that it was strange how those who had so comical a spectacle before them could refrain from laughing outright.

8    At last the maid came back with the water, and the other having rinsed off the soap, she that held the linen gently wiped and dried the Knight’s beard and face; after which all four, dropping low courtesies, started off out of the room. But the Duke, to make sure that Don Quixote might not smell the jest, called to the young woman that carried the basin, and ordered her to come and wash him too, but be sure she had water enough. She, being sharp and cunning, came and put the basin under the Duke’s chin, as she had done to Don Quixote, but with less delay. And then having dried him clean, the young women curtsied and hurried off. It was just as well they understood their master’s meaning, in serving him as they did the knight; for as it was afterwards known, had they not done it, the Duke was resolved to have made them pay dearly for their frolic.

9    Sancho took great notice of all the ceremony in this washing. “Well!” he muttered, “I would like know whether it is not the custom of this country to scrub the squire’s beard as well as the Knight’s. For truly mine needs it plenty. In fact, if they would run over it with a razor too, so much the better.” 
“What are you mumbling to yourself, Sancho?” enquired the Duchess.     “Why, if it pleases your grace,” said Sancho, “I am only saying that I have been told that in other houses when the tablecloth is taken away, they used to give folks water to wash their hands, and not suds to scour their beards. I see now it is great to live and learn. There is a saying—he that lives long suffers much. But I have a huge fancy that to suffer one of these same scrubbings is rather a pleasure than a pain.”
“Well, Sancho,” said the Duchess, “trouble yourself no further, I shall see that one of my maids shall wash you, and if there be occasion, lay you a bucking too.”

      “My beard is all I want to have scrubbed at present”, said Sancho; “as for the rest, we will think about it another time.”


The Joy of Government

10 “Now then,” said Sancho, “let me have this island, and I will do my best to be such a governor, that, in spite of rogues, I shall not lack a small reward in heaven some day. It is not out of covetousness, either, that I would leave my little shack and set up to be somebody. I merely want to know what kind of thing it is to be a governor.” 
 “Ah, Sancho,” said the Duke, “when once you have had a taste of it, you will never leave licking your fingers, it is so sweet and bewitching a thing to command and be obeyed. I am confident that when your master comes to be an Emperor (as he cannot fail to be, according to the course of his affairs) he will never by any consideration be persuaded to abdicate; his only grief will be, that he was not one sooner.”
        “True, sir,” replied Sancho,  “I am of your mind; it is a neat thing to command, even though it were only a flock of sheep.”

        “Ah, Sancho,” cried the Duke, “let me live and die with you, for you have an insight into everything.”

11  By this time Don Quixote arrived, and hearing how suddenly Sancho was to take up his government, he took him aside, with the Duke’s permission, to give him some good instructions for his conduct in the discharge of his office:


Behaving towards One' Family

12  “Be well-pleased with the humble state of your family, Sancho, and do not think it a disgrace to acknowledge yourself derived from laboring men. For if you are not ashamed of it yourself, nobody else will strive to make you so. Endeavor to be judged humble and virtuous, rather than proud and vicious. The number is almost infinite of those who from low and births have been raised to the highest dignities, to the papal chair, and the imperial throne; and this I could prove by examples enough to tire your patience.

13  “Make virtue the medium of all your actions, and you will have no cause to envy those whose birth gives them the title of great men and princes; for nobility is inherited, but virtue acquired: and virtue is worth more in itself than nobleness of birth.

14  “If any of your poor relations come to see you, never reject or affront them; but, on the contrary, receive and entertain them with marks of favor; in this you will display a generosity of nature, and please heaven, which would have nobody despise what it has made.

15  “If you send for your wife, as it is not fit a man in your station should be long without his wife—and she ought to partake of her husband’s good fortune—teach her, instruct her, and polish her the best you can, till her native rusticity is refined to a more polite behavior; for often an ill-bred wife throws down all that a good and discreet husband can build up.


Dispensing Justice

16  “Should you come to be a widower (which is not impossible) and your post require you to take a bride of a higher degree, do not take one that will, like a fishing-rod, serve only to catch bribes. For, take it from me, a judge must at the general and last court of judgment give a strict account of the discharge of his duty, and must pay severely at his dying day for what he has suffered his wife to take.

17  “Never let obstinate self-conceit be your guide; it is the vice of the ignorant, who vainly presume on their understanding. Let the tears of the poor find more compassion, though not more justice, than the pleading of the rich. Be equally solicitous to find out the truth when the offers and presents of the rich and the sobs and importunities of the poor are before you.

18  “Wherever justice should, or may be meted out, do not let the extent or rigor of the law bear too much on the delinquent. For it is not a better quality in a judge to be rigorous rather than indulgent. When the severity of the law is to be softened, let pity, not bribes, be the motive. If your enemy has a cause before you, turn away your eyes from your prejudice, and fix them on the matter of fact. In another man’s cause, be not blinded by your own passions—for those errors are almost without remedy—or their cure will prove expensive to your wealth and reputation.

19  “When a beautiful woman comes before you, turn away your eyes from her tears, and your ears from her lamentations; and take time to consider her petition dispassionately, if you would not have your reason and honesty lost in her sighs and tears.

20  “Do not revile with words those whom their crimes oblige you to punish. For the punishment is enough to the wretches, without the addition of ill language. In the trial of criminals, consider as much as you can without prejudice to the plaintiff, how defenseless and open the miserable are to the temptations of our corrupt and depraved nature, and to that extent show yourself full of pity and clemency.


Personal Conduct

21  “As to the government of your person and family,” continued Don Quixote, “my first injunction is cleanliness. Pare your nails, do not let them grow as those do whose folly persuades them that long nails add to the beauty of the hand; till theirs look more like kestrel’s claws than a man’s nails. It is foul and unsightly.

22  “Keep your clothes fitting snugly about you; for a slovenly looseness is an argument of a careless mind—unless such a negligence, like that of Julius Caesar, be affected for some cunning motive.

23  “Walk with gravity, and speak with deliberation, and yet not as if you were listening to your own words; for all affectation is a fault. Eat little at dinner, and less at supper; for the stomach is the storehouse, whence health is to be imparted to the whole body.  Drink moderately; for drunkenness neither keeps a secret, nor observes a promise. Be careful not to chew on both sides, that is, fill not your mouth too full, and take heed not to eruct before company.”

24  “Eruct!”, said Sancho, “I do not understand that twisted word.”  
        “To eruct,” answered Don Quixote, “is the same as saying to belch; but this being one of the most disagreeable and brutish words in our language—though very expressive and significant—the more polite, instead of saying belching, say eructing, which is borrowed from the Latin. Now though the vulgar may not understand this, it matters little; for use and custom will make it familiar and understood. By such innovations are languages enriched, when the words are adopted by the multitude, and made natural by custom.”



25  “In the next place, Sancho,” said the Knight, “do not overstuff your common discourse with that glut of proverbs which you mix in it continually. For though proverbs are properly concise and pithy sentences, yet as you bring them in, in such a huddle, shoulder to shoulder, you make them look like so many absurdities.”

“Alas! sir,” said Sancho, “this is a disease that heaven alone can cure; for I have more proverbs than will fill a book. And when I talk, they crowd so thick and fast to my mouth that they quarrel which shall get out first; so that my tongue is forced to let them out as fast, first come first served, even though that does not serve my purpose. But from now on I will set a guard on my mouth, and let none fly out, but such as shall befit the gravity of my place. For in a rich man’s house the cloth is soon laid. Where there is plenty the guests cannot be empty. A blot’s no blot till it is seen. He is safe who stands under the bells. You cannot have your cake and eat it. And to store is no sore.”

26  “Go on, go on, friend,” said Don Quixote, “thread, tack, stitch on, heap proverb upon proverb, out with them, man, spew them out! There is nobody coming. My mother whips me, and I whip the gig. I warn you to refrain from foisting in a rope of proverbs everywhere, for you blunder out a whole litany of old saws, as much to the purpose as the last year’s snow. Listen to me, Sancho, I do not condemn the use of proverbs, but it is most certain that such a confusion and hodge-podge of them as you throw out, or drag in by the hair together, make conversation offensively overstuffed and meager in content.

27  “Sleep with moderation; for he who rises not with the sun, loses so much day. And remember this, Sancho, that diligence is the mother of good fortune. Sloth, on the contrary, never achieved any thing that sprung from a good and reasonable desire.

28  “The advice which I shall conclude with, though it does not relate to improving yourself, I would have you be sure to fix in your memory; for I am persuaded, it will contribute as much to your advantage as any I have yet given you. And this it is: Never undertake to argue or decide any controversies concerning the pre-eminence of families; since, in making a comparison, one must be better than the other. For he that is lessened by you will hate you, and the other whom you prefer, will not think himself obliged to you.”

29  “Sir,” said Sancho, “I see very well that all you have told me is mighty good, wholesome, and to the purpose: but what is the benefit to me, if I cannot keep it in my head? I grant you, I shall not easily forget that about paring my nails, and marrying again—if I should have the luck to bury my wife. But for all that other heap of jumbled stuff, I can no more remember one syllable of it than the shapes of last year’s clouds. Therefore let me have it in black and white, I beg you.

30  “And since I have the authority, I will do what I wish; for, as the saying is, he whose father is judge, goes safe to his trial. And, as I am a governor, I hope I am somewhat better than a judge. New lords, new laws. Yes, and let them come as they will, and play at Bo-peep. Let them backbite me to my face, I will bite back the biters. Let them come for wool, and I will send them home shorn. .  .

 31 “The rich man’s follies pass for wise sayings in this world. So I, being rich, do you see, and a governor and generous hearted too into the bargain—as I intend to be—I shall have no faults at all. It is so: daub yourself with honey, and you will never want flies; what a man has, so much he is sure of, said my old grandma. And who will hang the bell about the cat’s neck?

32  “Besides, your worship knows, that a fool knows more in his own house, than a wise person in another man’s.”  
“That is a mistake, Sancho,” replied Don Quixote “for the fool knows nothing, neither in his own house, nor in another man’s; for no substantial knowledge can be erected on so bad a foundation as folly.”


Judgment in Business

33  So Sancho with all his attendants came to a town that had about a thousand inhabitants, and was one of the best where the Duke had any power. . . and after some ridiculous ceremonies, they delivered him the keys of the gates, and received him as a perpetual governor of the island of Barataria. In the meantime, the clothes, the deportment, the huge beard, and the short and thick shape of the new Governor puzzled every one who knew nothing of the joke, and even those who were privy to the plot, who were many, were not a little surprised.

34  “My Lord Governor,” said the Duke’s steward to him, “it is an ancient custom here, that he who takes possession of this famous island must answer to some difficult and intricate question that is propounded to him. And by the answer he gives, the people feel the pulse of his understanding; and by an estimate of his abilities, judge whether they ought to rejoice, or to be sorry for his coming.”

35  At the same instant two men came into the court, the one dressed like a rural fellow, the other looked like a tailor, with a pair of shears in his hand.

      “If it pleases you, my Lord”, cried the tailor, “I and this farmer here are come before your worship. This honest man came to my shop yesterday; for, saving your presence, I am a tailor and, heaven be praised, open for business. So my Lord, he showed me a piece of cloth: ‘ Sir,’ said he, ‘is there enough of this to make me a cap?’  Whereupon I measured the stuff, and answered him, ‘Yes, if that is what you wish sir.’

“Now  I could guess, you see, that he would suspect (and perhaps he had reason to suspect) I might purloin some of his cloth, mistrusting us honest tailors. ‘I ask you,’ said he, ‘is there not enough for two caps.?’  Now I saw what he was up to, and told him there was. Whereupon the old knave (if it please your worship) going on to the same tune, asked me look again and see whether it would not make three; and at last if it would not make five. I was resolved to humor my customer, and said it might. So we struck a bargain. Just now the man came for his caps, which I gave him. But when I asked him for my money, he will have me give him back his cloth, or pay him for it.”

 36 “Is this true, honest sir?” said Sancho to the farmer. 
 “Yes, if it please you,” answered the fellow; “but pray let him show the five caps he has made me.”
“With all my heart,” said the tailor; and with that, pulling his hand from under his cloak, he held up five tiny caps, sitting on his four fingers and thumb, as upon so many pins. “There,” said he, “you see the five caps this good rustic asked for; and may I never sew a stitch more, if I have wronged him of the least snip of his cloth, and let any workman be judge.”

37  The sight of the caps, and the oddness of the cause set the whole court to laughing. Only Sancho sat gravely, considering a while, and then, “Methinks,’ he said, “this suit here needs not be long in process, but may be decided without any more ado, with a great deal of equity. And therefore the judgment of the court is that the tailor shall lose his fee and the countryman his cloth, and that the caps be given to the poor prisoners. And so let that be the end of the business.”

38  “You speak so well, my Lord Governor,” answered the steward, “that I stand in admiration to hear a man so unlettered as you are (for I believe your Lordship cannot read at all) utter so many notable things, and every word in a rounded sentence—far from what they who sent you hither, and they who are here present, ever expected from your understanding. But every day produces some new wonder, jests are turned into earnest, and those who designed to laugh at others, may perhaps be laughed at themselves.”


Limits of Punishment

39  It being now night, and the Governor having supped, he prepared to walk the rounds. He set forward, attended by the steward, the secretary, the gentleman in attendance, the historian—who was to register his acts—several sergeants of the watch, and other officers of the law. There were so many in number that they made a little battalion, in the middle of which the great Sancho marched, with his rod of justice in his hand, in a noteworthy manner.

40  One of the officers came holding a youth, and brought him before the Governor. “If it please your worship”, he said, “this young man was coming our way, but as soon as he perceived it was us making the rounds, he sheered off and started running as fast as his legs would carry him—a sign he was up to no good. I ran after him, but had not he happened to fall, I would never have caught up with him.”  
    “What made you run away, friend ?” said Sancho.
    “Sir,” answered the young man, “it was only to avoid the questions one is  commonly teased with by the watch.”
    “What business do you follow ?” asked Sancho.
 “I am a weaver by trade,” answered the other. 

   “A weaver of what ?” asked the Governor. 
     “Of steel heads for lances, with your worship’s good leave,” said the other.  
      “Oh ho !” replied Sancho, “ I see you are a wit, and aim to pass your jests off on us. Very well. And pray where are you going at this time of night?”
       “To take the air, if it please your worship” answered the other.
    “Good,” said Sancho, “and where do they take the air in this island?”
    “Where it blows,” said the youth.
        “A very proper answer,” replied Sancho. “You are a very pretty impudent fellow, that is the truth of it. But please take into account that I am the air, or the wind—whichever you please—and that I blow in your stern and run you to the brig.
            “Here, take and carry him away to that place directly. I will make sure this youngster shall sleep out of the air to-night; he might catch cold else by lying abroad.”
            “By all that’s holy,” said the young man, “you shall as soon make me a king as make me sleep out of the air to-night.”
            “Why, you young slip-leash,” said Sancho, “is it not m my power to commit you to prison, and fetch you out again, as often as it is my will and pleasure?

41  “Well, now, my good Lord Governor,” said the young man very politely, “let us talk reason, and come to the point. Suppose your Lordship should send me to jail, and get me laid by the heels in the dungeon, shackled and manacled, and lay a heavy penalty on the jailer against letting me out. And suppose your orders are strictly obeyed. Yet for all that, if I have no mind to sleep, but will keep awake all night, without so much as shutting my eyes, can you—with all the power you have—make me sleep whether I wish to or not?”

42  “Well,” said Sancho, “but I hope you mean to keep yourself awake and refrain from sleeping only to please your own fancy, and not to thwart my will.”  
        “Why then go home and sleep, and heaven send you good rest. I will not hold you back. But have a care another time of sporting with justice; for you may meet with some in office that may perhaps crack your head, while you are cracking jokes.” 
           The youth went his way, and the Governor continued his rounds.


Mercy Before Rigor

43  He did not fail to give audience next day; and the first that came before him was a stranger, who put the following case to him, the steward and the rest of the attendants being present.

“My Lord,” said he, “ I beg your honor to lend me your attention, for this is a case of great importance and some difficulty. A large river divides a lord’s domain in two parts. Over this river there is a bridge, at one end of which there stands a gallows and a kind of court of justice. There four judges sit, to carry out a certain law made by the lord of the land and river, which runs thus:

“Whoever intends to pass from one end of this bridge to the other must first upon his oath declare where he is going, and what is his business. If he speaks the truth, he may go on; but if he speaks false, he shall be hanged, and die without remission upon the gibbet at the end of the bridge.

“After due promulgation of this law many people—in spite of its severity—ventured to go over this bridge and, as it appeared each one spoke the truth, the judges permitted them to pass unmolested.

44  “It happened one day that a certain traveler being sworn, declared that by an oath he had taken, he was crossing to die upon the gallows, and that was all his business. 
        “This nonplussed the judges; ‘ For,’ said they, ‘if we let this man pass freely, he has lied, and according to the letter of the law he ought to die; if we hang him, he has spoken the truth, seeing he said he crossed to die on that gibbet; and then by the same law we should let him pass.’
        “Now your Lordship’s judgment is desired as to what the judges ought to do with this man. For they are still unsure, not knowing what to rule in this case; and having been informed of your sharp wit, and great capacity in resolving difficult questions, they sent me to beseech your Lordship, in their names, to give your opinion in so intricate and knotty a case.”

45  “To speak plainly to you,” answered Sancho; “those worshipful judges that sent you here might as well have spared themselves the labor; for I am more inclined to dullness I assure you than to sharpness. However, let me hear your question once more, that I may thoroughly understand it, and perhaps I may at last hit the nail on the head.”

The man repeated the question again and again; and when he had done, Sancho said “To my way of thinking this question may be put thus: the man said he came to die on the gibbet, and if he dies there, he spoke truly, and according to the law he ought to be free, and go over the bridge. On the other hand, if you do not hang him, he spoke falsely, and by the same law he ought to be hanged.”  
      “It is as your Lordship says,” replied the stranger, “you have stated the case right.”

46  “Why then,” said Sancho, “why not let that part of the man that swore true freely pass; and hang the other part that swore false, and so the law will be fulfilled.”
        “But then, my Lord,” replied the stranger, “the man must be divided into two parts, which if we do, he certainly dies, and the law, which must be observed in every detail, is not carried out.”

47  “Well, listen to me, honest man,” said Sancho, “either I am a very dunce, or there is as much reason to put this same person you talk of to death as to let him live and pass the bridge. For if the truth saves him, the lie condemns him. Now, as the case stands thus, I would have you tell those gentlemen who sent you that since there is as much reason to let him off as to condemn him, they should let him go free. For it is always more commendable to do good than hurt.

And this I would give you under my own hand, if I could write. I have not put together this answer out of my own head; but I made use of one precept among many others that my master Don Quixote gave me the night before I went to govern this island. This  was, that when the scales of justice is even, or a case is doubtful, we should prefer mercy before rigor.



Adapted from The History of Don Quixote de la Mancha by Miguel Cervantes, translated by Pierre Antoine Motteux, Vol II.  

A complete translation of Don Quixote by John Ormsby (1885) is at the Don Quixote site

 Selection and adaptation Copyright © Rex Pay 2000