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[The following passage comes from an article by G. K. Chesterton entitled, “The Divine Parody of Don Quixote,” published in The Daily News (now defunct) in 1911.]

The great truth which lies at the heart of Don Quixote is the truth that the conflict of the world is chiefly a conflict between goods. The battle between the idealism of Don Quixote and the realism of the inn-keeper is a battle so hot and ceaseless that we know that they must both be right. A vulgar philosophy laments the wickedness of the world, but when we come to think of it we realise that the confusion of life, the doubt and turmoil and bewildering responsibility of life, largely arises from the enormous amount of good in the world.

There is much to be said for everybody; there are too many points of view; too many truths that contradict each other, too many loves which hate each other. Our earth is not, as Hamlet said, “an unweeded garden,” but a garden which is choked and disordered with neglected flowers. The eternal glory of Don Quixote in the literary world is that it holds perfectly even the two scales of the mysticism of the Knight and the rationalism of the Squire. Deep underneath all the superficial wit and palpable gaiety of the story there runs a far deeper kind of irony—an irony that is older than the world. It is the irony that tells us that we live in a maddening and perplexing world, in which we are all right; and that the battle of existence has always been like King Arthur’s last battle in the mist, one in which “friend slew friend, not knowing whom he slew.”

That is a sobering thought, but assuredly it is not a depressing one. Scarcely any book is more profoundly humane and steadfast than Don Quixote, more filled with a vast and elemental assumption that human nature is good. The threads of our life cross and tangle, but it is not we who hold the skein. The philosophy of Cervantes cries aloud to the world the much misunderstood and increasingly forgotten, but always divine and wholesome, science of minding one’s own business. It stands for the great and practical paradox that the narrowest duty is also the broadest, that it is very universal to bake a cake or rock a cradle, and generally very vulgar and provincial to take charge of the universe. This great hospitality of the brain of Cervantes, this readiness to admit that lawlessness itself was only a war of a hundred justices, gives him his great place in literature.

He does not in any pre-eminent degree owe that place to his diction or his style. He owes it to the fact that this impartiality of his is the very soul of great literature, for literature should know all men and judge none. It is the dead who are judged, and the creatures of literature should never die.

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