Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

John Phillips, John Milton, Don Quixote, and the Disenchantment of Romance

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

John Phillips, John Milton, Don Quixote, and the Disenchantment of Romance

Article excerpt

In 1687, Milton's nephew and pupil John Phillips published a translation of Miguel de Cervantes's Don Quixote [...] Now Made Englishi According to the Humour of our Modern Language. Although condemned as a vulgar travesty, Phillips's adaptation extends our understanding of the disenchantment of romance in the seventeenth century.

The famous episode of Dante's Inferno in which Francesca attributes Paolo's first adulterous kiss to romance reading (5.82-142) anticipates one of many suspicions that troubled the genre of the romance throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Divines railed against romance reading as a provocation to sloth and lust, poets called for the reformation of the multiple, fantastic plots of the romance, and critics mocked its enchantments and marvels. In England, John Milton responded to these debates by abandoning his early idea to "summon back our native kings into our songs, and Arthur" (130). Rejecting the stories of King Arthur and the Round Table as legend, not history, he chose instead the truth of Scripture as the subject for Europe's last great epic poem. (1) In Spain, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra responded to these same debates by creating Europe's first modern novel from the remnants of the genre his laughter exploded. Although differing in their responses to the currents that swept past the chivalric romance, Milton and Cervantes are nevertheless connected by a 1687 translation, The History of the Most Renowned Don Quixote of Mancha: and his Trusty Squire Sancho Pancha, Now Made English According to the Humour of our Modern Language. The translator "J.P." is John Phillips, the younger of Milton's two nephews whom he educated for at least eleven years.

The critical judgment on Phillips's version, the second English translation, has been consistent since the late seventeenth century. Thirteen years after its publication, two translators were scandalized. Whereas Thomas Shelton's first translation (1612, 1620) is merely "unpolish'd" and full of "mistakes," says John Stevens, Phillips "alters the whole frame of the Work" (Randall and Boswell 628-31). Moreover, complains Peter Anthony Motteux, Phillips "has [...] ridicul'd the most serious and moving Passages, remov'd all the scandalous places in London into the middle of Spain, and all the Language of Billingsgate into the Mouths of Spanish Ladies and Noblemen [... and] added a World of Obscenity and scribling Conceits" (634-35). Although its seventeen illustrations by an anonymous artist were valued highly enough to be reprinted four times in the eighteenth century, Phillips's translation was never re-issued after its first publication in 1687, although it did become the basis of an abridgement in 1689. (2)

Phillips's publishers seem to have had high hopes of selling this Anglicized adaptation in the exploding print marketplace of late-Stuart London. Advertising itself as "Adorned with several Copper Plates" it is quite a production. For six hundred and nineteen pages, Phillips tirelessly mixes Spanish with English places and people so that, for example, the Basque escort whom Don Quixote challenges becomes a Welshman whose mangled English resembles Fluellen's in Henry V (History 33), and the joking inn-keeper who knights Don Quixote lists the sites of his own youthful escapades as "the Academy of the Fleet, the Colledge of Newgate, the Purliews of Turnboll, and PicktHatch; the Bordello's of St. Giles's, Banstead-Downs, Newmarket-Heath" (11, emph. Phillips's)--instead of Cervantes's "picaresque map of Spain" (Cervantes 33n3). Albeit packed with exuberant English colloquialisms, Phillips's translation often deliberately violates the sense of Cervantes's original. At the end of the interpolated "Story of IllAdvised Curiosity," Phillips disposes of Cervantes's heroine in "such another House as Mother Creswel's [...] not so mean as Mrs. Buly, and yet a little below the Degree of Madam Bennet" (195, emph. Phillips's), where she "split against the two common Rocks of Clap and Brandy" (197). …

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