Leisurely reader: you don't need me to swear that I longed for this book, born out of my own brain, to be the handsomest child imaginable, the most elegant, the most sensible. But could I contradict the natural order of things? Like creates like. So what could my sterile, half-educated wit give birth to except the history of a puling child, withered, whining, its head stuffed with all kinds of thoughts no one else would even think of, like a man bred in a jail cell, where everything grates on your nerves and every new sound makes you still sadder. Peace, a calm spot, delightful meadows, serene skies, murmuring brooks, and a tranquil spirit — they turn even the most sterile Muses fertile, filling the world with wonderful, delightful offspring. Sometimes a father has an ugly child, utterly unlovely, but love drapes a veil over his eyes so he's blind to its faults and sees them as wit and charm and describes them to his friends as clever and graceful. But though I may seem to be Don Quijote's parent, I'm only his stepfather, and I'm not interested in saying things just because everybody else does, or in begging you, dearest reader, with tears in my eyes, to please forgive or overlook my child's faults — because you're neither his relative nor his friend, and your soul sits in its own body, you can make up your mind for yourself, with the best of them, and by God you're the boss in your own house, like a king in charge of his tax-collectors. You know the old saying: whatever I've got under my coat is mine, not the king's. Which means you're under no obligation at all, so you can say anything you like about this history, you don't have to worry about being insulted if you don't like it or rewarded if you do.
But I would have preferred to give it to the world just as it is, plain and simple, not decorating it with a prologue or an endless list of all the sonnets, epigrams, and elegies we put in the front of books. Because, let me tell you, though writing the book was hard work, nothing was harder than this preface you're reading right now. I kept picking up my pen and putting it down, over and over, not knowing what I was supposed to write, and once, when I was sitting like that, just hanging fire, motionless, with the paper in front of me, a pen stuck behind my ear, my elbow on the desk, my hand on my cheek, wondering what I ought to say, one of my friends suddenly came in, clever, smart, and seeing me so buried in thought asked me why, and I didn't hide anything from him, I told him I was worried about the prologue I had to write for Don Quijote's history, and beginning to think I neither wanted to write it nor let that noble knight's adventures see the light of day.
"And why shouldn't I be worried what that time-honored old law-giver we call the Public will say, seeing me, after this long sleep in the silence of oblivion, coming out again, now, with all my years on my back, with reading matter about as juicy as dry grass, totally unoriginal, and a feeble style — a book thin in learned conceits, lacking any erudition or serious ideas, without a single annotation in the margins and absolutely no footnotes at the back, the way I see other books (even if they're stuffed with lies and