400 years after Cervantes

Colour illustration of knight fighting on horseback

Collection item created
Title: Don Quixote de la Mancha / translated from the original Spanish of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra by Charles Jarvis - Don Quixote riding horseback
Author: Charles Jarvis
Call Number: RB/CER/416
Digital Order Number: a903003 
Published: 1819

The History and Adventures of Don Quixote de la Mancha, by Miguel de Cervantes (1547 – 1616), was first published in 1605. It is considered the most significant work in Spanish literature, and Don Quixote, the renowned and ingenious Spanish gentleman, has become a legendary literary figure. 

Don Quixote also occupies a special place in the State Library - both figuratively and literally. In our magnificent Friends Room, the original home of the Mitchell Reading Room, 1,100 editions of Don Quixote line the walls.

This extraordinary quirky Cervantes Collection was donated to the Library by Dr Ben Haneman’s in 1997. Gathered over 30 years, the collection also includes hundreds of additional works on Cervantes. 

The oldest volume in the collection is an early English translation of Don Quixote by Thomas Shelton, published in 1620. Shelton was a contemporary of Shakespeare and Cervantes, and his translation reflects the manners and literary conventions of the times. However, because he completed the translation in only 40 days, accuracy was forsaken for style. A number of finer English translations followed, including editions by John Philips (nephew of John Milton), Peter Motteux, Charles Jarvis, Tobias Smollett and John Ormsby. Every significant English translation of Cervantes’ novel is represented in the Library’s collection.

Don Quixote has also been translated into over 60 languages, many of which are represented in the collection, including those in Armenian, Greek, Finnish and Japanese.

There are also many illustrated editions by well-known artists such as William Hogarth, Gustave Doré, Salvador Dali, Albert Dubout and Edward Ardizzone. 

Cervantes’ novel also inspired a number of related works, including a curious edition published in 1752: The Female Quixote, or, The Adventures of Arabella, by Charlotte Lennox, with an introduction by Samuel Johnson. In this work, the heroine, Arabella, is a young and generous heiress who models her behaviour and ideals on seventeenth-century French romances. 

Dr Ben Haneman was a well-known Sydney physician who had a passion for Spain and its culture. For many years he was an honorary professor at the University of Navarre and, in 1984, he was appointed a Knight of the Order of Civil Merit by the Spanish Government. In Dr Haneman’s own words, ‘Don Quixote is central to Spanish literature, to world literature, to writing, production and reading of books and, in my fevered belief, is central to living and being.’

This year marks the 400th anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes death. He died the day before another notable author William Shakespeare. Four hundred years on these literary giants continue to inspire their fans – not least us here at the State Library of NSW.