Smollett the Scot

In his interesting review of Smollett's translation of Cervantes' "Don Quixote," Jack Miles expressed the view that Smollett's translation, which appeared in 1755 and has been out of print for a century, "is a genuine literary event." The reviewer may be quite right: A translation of one novelist by another novelist is very likely to attract reader interest.

Both Miles and Carlos Fuentes, who wrote an introduction to this edition, presented modern interpretations of Quixote himself. As many readers know, Quixote, during the course of more than three centuries, progressed from an object of ridicule to an object of pity and admiration. Among a legion of favorable comments are two by Samuel Johnson and Vladimir Nabokov. In 1750, Johnson, Smollett's contemporary, wrote, "When we pity him, we reflect on our own disappointments; and when we laugh, our hearts inform us what we have only thought." And, according to Nabokov, "We do not laugh at him any longer. His blazon is pity, his banner is beauty. He stands for everything that is gentle, forlorn, pure, unselfish and gallant. The parody has become a paragon."

In his preface, Smollett said that he endeavored "to retain the spirit and ideas, without servilely adhering to the literal expression of the original . . ." Both Miles and Fuentes praise his style, but the review includes very little about accuracy of translation.

Readers who are interested in a historical account of English translations will find it in Samuel Putnam's introduction to his translation of "Don Quixote" (Viking, 1949), a translation which has received very high praise. They may be surprised by Putnam's estimate of Smollett's work.


Twentynine Palms

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