El Quijote in 19 days

Probably the best thing about the Kindle is the ability to download free books. Sure, there are plenty of books you can buy for the Kindle, and I have several, but I have even more free books from the public domain. The downside (and upside!) of this is that the books have to be pretty old for them to be in the public domain.

Which is why I read “Spain“, by Wentworth Webster this past weekend. So, part of the fun was that it was written in 1882, so you get all kinds of quotes like the following:

“It is only the mixture of pride and laziness and ignorance of the Castillian peasant, his senseless disdain of all improvement, his want of ambition for anything better, that prevent progress in this part of Spain.”

I mean, oh man. This book definitely took me back to grad school, and all my readings on “The Black Legend“, Latin America’s “inferiority“, Leopoldo Zea, and the prejudice between Spain and England. So that was pretty wild.

There was also a lot of good information about Spanish history, which I (somewhat ashamedly) don’t know enough about. There are gaping holes in my knowledge, so the book filled them in, although it was obviously limited since the end year was about 1880 and there are many discoveries we have made more recently that were not available to Mr. Webster.

And there was a lot of extraordinarily detailed information about the geographical layout of Spain. Lots of numbers that I admittedly skimmed over. But the author included them because the main point of his book was that the main obstacle holding Spain back was

“the political separation of Spain and Portugal, so ill-adapted to the geographical conformation of the Peninsula. The great rivers of Spain run westward, but the benefit of these fluvial highways is entirely lost to the country through the intercalation of Portugal into the western sea-board”

I have to say, I never thought of it like that. It’s a little late to be annexing a whole country, regardless of whether anyone wants to or can, but it sure gave me something to think about.

Oh, and the title. I went to Monticello this past weekend and during the tour, the guide told us that Thomas Jefferson taught himself to read Spanish by using the book “Don Quixote” on the voyage from the US to Europe, on his way to France to be the US Ambassador. The trip took 19 days. I didn’t even know you could read El Quijote in 19 days! I’m going to tell my students that, see if it doesn’t motivate them.


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