Don Quixote and the Death of Culture

In Chapter VI of Don Quixote, the protagonist’s friends decide to burn the chivalric books that they believe were responsible for his insanity. In this chapter, roughly 32 books are specifically mentioned—books such as Adadis de Gaula and The Knight Platir. In Putnam’s translation, he provides a general note regarding this chapter:

In this chapter Cervantes gives us a critical survey of the literature of sixteenth-century Spain as represented by the romances of chivalry and the pastoral novels. See the informative and charmingly written article on “Don Quixote’s Library,” by Esther B. Sylvia, in More Books, The Bulletin of the Boston Public Library, April 1940, pp. 135-52. The works mentioned here were all more or less well known.

This description made me very excited and so I found a copy on ABE Books and purchased it for $19—postage paid. When it arrived, I was shocked by its quality. This free publication of the Boston Public Library is a substantial scholastic publication that is well printed and perfect bound.

More Books: April 1940

Don Quixote Exhibit at BPL

What’s more, the majority of this issue is taken up with an article, “Don Quijote’s Library,” by Esther B. Sylvia. It describes an exhibition of rare books related to Don Quixote that the library was displaying at that time. This was produced in April of 1940. This is a year and a half before the start of World War II.[1] What a wonderful statement this is: despite the horrible economy, we continued to care about books, history, and art—and we share our love for free to all those who are like minded.

This Depression-era exhibit contained roughly half of the books that are listed in Chapter VI of Don Quixote. The article discusses each one—often providing far more information than I have been able to find elsewhere. For example, Sylvia goes into great depth about the Adadis de Gaula and the Palmerin series of books. In addition, she deals with the pastoral novels.

The exhibition also included a number of old and rare editions of Don Quixote itself. In particular, it had the second printing of Part 1 and the first printing of Part 2. It also had the 1608 edition that was revised by the author. This is important because in Chapter 25, Sancho’s donkey, Dapple, has been stolen, but there is no mention of it. Cervantes made some changes in the second printing of Part 1 and then extensive changes in the third printing. I believe the modern translations are based upon this third printing. The exhibition also had some of the earliest illustrated editions of Don Quixote, such as the 1657 Dutch, the 1662 Spanish, and the 1824 English editions. In total, the exhibition contained roughly 100 books.

Cultural Decline

I was so taken by this issue of More Books and the fact that these people were pushing their culture forward in a time of great economic strife, I sent a check for a modest sum (for me) to the Sonoma Country Library. The very next day, the library announced that because of budget cuts, they were no longer going to be open on Mondays and they would close at 4:00 on Saturdays.[2] On hearing this, I was glad that I had sent them the money I did, but I was saddened by the state of our culture. In the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Boston Public Library continued receiving the funding it needed to operate and even present spectacular exhibits. In the Great Recession of 2008, we are allowing our culture to die from neglect.

My Pleasure

More Books is not copyrighted. Thus, it is my great pleasure to provide to Don Quixote lovers everywhere, a PDF of the entire April 1940 issue of More Books. Perhaps I will provide “Don Quijote’s Library” in text format at some later time, but that will be a lot of work. For now, this copy is text searchable and so should work fine for study and, of course, enjoyment.


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[1] In June of 1940, the United State government began spending money to rebuild its military infrastructure, so this was near the beginning of the end of the Depression, but it was clearly still in the Depression.

[2] I spoke to the reference librarian at BPL, and they too have had to cut back. About six months ago, their main library went from operating 9-9 on weekdays to 10-6. The Fine Arts and Music libraries have had similar cutbacks.