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English translation, Part 1/prologue of Lazarillo de Tormes Essay

I think it is good that such remarkable things as these, which may never have been heard of or seen before, should come to the attention of many people instead of being buried away in the tomb of oblivion. Because it might turn out that someone who reads about them will like what he reads, and even people who only glance lightly through this book may be entertained.

Pliny says along these lines that there is no book–no matter how bad it is–that doesn’t have something good in it. And this is all the more true since all tastes are not the same: what one man won’t even touch, another will be dying to get. And so there are things that some people don’t care for, while others do. The point is that nothing should be destroyed or thrown away unless it is really detestable; instead, it should be shown to

everybody, especially if it won’t do any harm and they might get some good out of it.

If this weren’t so, there would be very few people who would write for only one reader, because writing is hardly a simple thing to do. But since writers go ahead with it, they want to be rewarded, not with money but with people seeing and reading their works, and if there is something worthwhile in them, they would like some praise. Along these lines too, Cicero says: “Honor promotes the arts.”

Does anyone think that the first soldier to stand up and charge the enemy hates life? Of course not; a craving for glory is what makes him expose himself to danger. And the same is true in arts and letters. The young preacher gives a very good sermon and is really interested in the improvement of people’s souls, but ask his grace if he minds when they tell him, “Oh, what an excellent sermon you gave today, Reverend!” And So-and-so was terrible in jousting today, but when some rascal praised him for the way he had handled his weapons, he gave him his armor. What would he have done if it had really been true?

And so everything goes: I confess that I’m no more saintly than my neighbors, but I would not mind it at all if those people who find some pleasure in this little trifle of mine (written in my crude style) would get wrapped up in it and be entertained by it, and if they could see that a man who has had so much bad luck and so many misfortunes and troubles does exist.

Please take this poor effort from a person who would have liked to make it richer if only his ability had been as great as his desire. And since you told me that you wanted me to write down all the details of the matter, I have decided not to start out in the middle but at the beginning. That way you will have a complete picture of me, and at the same time those people who received a large inheritance will see how little they had to do with it, since fortune favored them, and they will also see how much more those people accomplished whose luck was going against them, since they rowed hard and well and brought their ship

safely into port.

I. Lazaro Tells about His Life and His Parents

You should know first of all that I’m called Lazaro of Tormes, and that I’m the son of Tome Gonzales and Antona Perez, who were born in Tejares, a village near Salamanca. I was actually born in the Tormes River, and that’s how I got my name. It happened this way: My father (God rest his soul) was in charge of a mill on the bank of that river, and he was the miller there for more than fifteen years. Well, one night while my mother was in the mill, carrying me around in her belly, she went into labor and gave birth to me right there. So I can really say I was born in the river.

Then when I was eight years old, they accused my father of gutting the sacks that people were bringing to the mill. They took him to jail, and without a word of protest he went ahead and confessed everything, and he suffered persecution for righteousness’ sake. But I trust God that he’s in heaven because the Bible calls that kind of man blessed. At that time they were getting together an expedition to go fight the Moors, and my father went with them. They had exiled him because of the bad luck that I’ve already told about, so he went along as a muleteer for one of the men, and like a loyal servant, he ended his life with his master.

My widowed mother, finding herself without a husband or anyone to take care of her, decided to lie at the side–I mean, stay on the side–of good men and be like them. So she came to the city to live. She rented a little house and began to cook for some students. She washed clothes for some stableboys who served the Commander of La Magdalena, too, so a lot of the time she was around the stables. She and a dark man–one of those men who took care of the animals– got to know each other. Sometimes he would come to our house and wouldn’t leave till the next morning; and other times he would come to our door in the daytime pretending that he wanted to buy eggs, and then he would come inside.

When he first began to come I didn’t like him, he scared me because of the color of his skin and the way he looked. But when I saw that with him around there the food got better, I began to like him quite a lot. He always brought bread and pieces of meat, and in the winter he brought in firewood so we could keep warm.

So with his visits and the relationship going right along, it happened that my mother gave me a pretty little black baby, and I used to bounce it on my knee and help keep it warm.

I remember one time when my black stepfather was playing with the little fellow, the child noticed that my mother and I were white but that my stepfather wasn’t and he got scared. He ran to my mother and pointed his finger at him and said, “Mama, it’s the bogeyman!” And my stepfather laughed: “You little son-of-a-bitch!”

Even though I was still a young boy, I thought about the word my little brother had used, and I said to myself: How many people there must be in the world who run away from others when they don’t see themselves.

As luck would have it, talk about Zaide (that was my stepfather’s name) reached the ears of the foreman, and when a search was made they found out that he’d been stealing about half of the barley that was supposed to be given to the animals. He’d pretended that the bran, wool, currycombs, aprons, and the horse covers and blankets had been lost; and when there was nothing else left to steal, he took the shoes right off the horses’ hooves. And he was using all this to buy things for my mother so that she could bring up my little brother.

Why should we be surprised at priests when they steal from the poor or at friars when they take things from their monasteries to give to their lady followers, or for other things, when we see how love can make a poor slave do what he did?

And they found him guilty of everything I’ve said and more because they asked me questions and threatened me too, and I answered them like a child. I was so frightened that I told them everything I knew–even about some horseshoes my mother
had made me sell to a blacksmith.

They beat and tarred my poor stepfather, and they gave my mother a stiff sentence besides the usual hundred lashes: they said that she couldn’t go into the house of the Commander (the one I mentioned) and that she couldn’t take poor Zaide into her own house.

So that matters wouldn’t get any worse, the poor woman went ahead and carried out the sentence. And to avoid any danger and get away from wagging tongues, she went to work as a servant for the people who were living at the Solano Inn then. And there, while putting up with all kinds of indignities, she managed to raise my little brother until he knew how to walk. And she even raised me to be a good little boy who would take wine and candles to the guests and do whatever else they told me.

About this time a blind man came by and stayed at the inn. He thought I would be a good guide for him, so he asked my mother if I could serve him, and she said I could. She told him what a good man my father had been and how he’d died in the battle of Gelves for the holy faith. She said she trusted God that I

wouldn’t turn out any worse a man than my father, and she begged him to be good to me and look after me, since I would be an orphan now. He told her he would and said that I wouldn’t be a servant to him, but a son. And so I began to serve and guide my new old master.

After he had been in Salamanca a few days, my master wasn’t happy with the amount of money he was taking in, and he decided to go somewhere else. So when we were ready to leave, I went to see my mother. And with both of us crying she gave me her blessing and said, “Son, I know that I’ll never see you again. Try to be good, and may God be your guide. I’ve raised you and given you to a good master; take good care of yourself.”

And then I went back out to my master who was waiting for me.
We left Salamanca and we came to a bridge; and at the edge of this bridge there’s a stone statue of an animal that looks something like a bull. The blind man told me to go up next to the animal, and when I was there he said, “Lazaro, put your ear up next to this bull and you’ll hear a great sound inside of it.”

I put my ear next to it very simply, thinking he was telling the truth. And when he felt my head near the statue, he doubled up his fist and knocked my head into that devil of a bull so hard that I felt the pain from its horns for three days. And he said to me, “You fool, now learn that a blind man’s servant has to be one step ahead of the devil.” And he laughed out loud at his joke.

It seemed to me that at that very instant I woke up from my childlike simplicity and I said to myself, “He’s right. I’ve got to open my eyes and be on my guard. I’m alone now, and I’ve got to think about taking care of myself.”

We started on our way again, and in just a few days he taught me the slang thieves use. When he saw what a quick mind I had he was really happy, and he said, “I can’t give you any gold or silver, but I can give you plenty of hints on how to stay

alive.” And that’s exactly what he did; after God, it was this fellow who gave me life and who, although he was blind, enlightened me and showed me how to live.

I like to tell you these silly things to show what virtue there is in men being able to raise themselves up from the depths, and what a vice it is for them to let themselves slip down from high stations.

Well, getting back to my dear blind man and telling about his ways, you should know that from the time God created the world there’s no one He made smarter or sharper than that man. At his job he was sly as a fox. He knew over a hundred prayers by heart. He would use a low tone, calm and very sonorous, that would make the church where he was praying echo. And whenever he prayed, he would put on a humble and pious expression–something he did very well. And he wouldn’t make faces or grimaces with his mouth or eyes the way others do.

Besides this he had thousands of other ways of getting money. He told everyone that he knew prayers for lots of different things: for women who couldn’t have children or who were in labor; for those women who weren’t happy in their marriage–so that their husbands would love them more. He would give predictions to expectant mothers about whether they would have a boy or a girl. And as far as medicine was concerned, he said that Galen never knew the half of what he did about toothaches, fainting spells, and female illnesses. In fact, there was no one who would tell him they were sick that he couldn’t immediately say to them: “Do this, and then is; take this herb, or take that root.”

And so everyone came to him–especially women–and they believed everything he told them. He got a lot out of them with these ways I’ve been telling about; in fact, he earned more in a month than a hundred ordinary blind men earn in a year.

But I want you to know, too, that even with all he got and all that he had, I’ve never seen a more greedy, miserly man. He was starving me to death. He didn’t even give me enough to keep me alive! I’m telling the truth: If I hadn’t known how to help myself with my wily ways and some pretty clever tricks, I would have died of hunger lots of times. But with all his know-how and carefulness I outwitted him, so that I always–or usually–really got the better of him. The way I did this was I played some devilish tricks on him, and I’ll tell about some of them, even though I didn’t come out on top every time.

He carried the bread and all the other things in a cloth bag, and he kept the neck of it closed with an iron ring that had a padlock and key. And when he put things in or took them out, he did it so carefully and counted everything so well that no one in the world could have gotten a crumb from him. So I’d take what little he gave me, and in less than two mouthfuls it would be gone.

After he had closed the lock and forgotten about it, thinking that I was busy with other things, I would begin to bleed the miserly bag dry. There was a little seam on the side of the bag that I’d rip open and sew up again. And I would take out bread– not little crumbs, either, but big hunks–and I’d get bacon and sausage too. And so I was always looking for the right time to score, not on a ball field, but on the food in that blasted bag that the tyrant of a blind man kept away from me.

And then, every time I had a chance I’d steal half copper coins. And when someone gave him a copper to say a prayer for them–and since he couldn’t see–they’d no sooner have offered it than I would pop it into my mouth and have a half-copper ready. And as soon as he stuck out his hand, there was my coin reduced to half price. Then the old blind man would start growling at me. As soon as he felt it and realized that it wasn’t a whole copper he’d say, “How the devil is it that now that you’re with me they never give me anything but half coppers, when they almost always used to give me a copper or a two-copper piece? I’d swear that this is all your fault.”

He used to cut his prayers short, too; he wouldn’t even get halfway through them. He told me to pull on the end of his cloak whenever the person who asked for the prayer had gone. So that’s what I did. Then he’d begin to call out again with his cry, “Who would like to have me say a prayer for him?” in his usual way.

And he always put a little jug of wine next to him when we ate. I would grab it quickly and give it a couple of quiet kisses before I put it back in its place. But that didn’t go on for very long: he could tell by the number of nips he took that some was missing. So to keep his wine safe he never let the jug out of reach; he’d always hold on to the handle. But not even a magnet could attract the way I could with a long rye straw that I had made for that very purpose.

And I’d stick it in the mouth of the jug and suck until–good-bye, wine! But the old traitor was so wary that I think he must have sensed me, because from then on he stopped that and put the jug between his legs. And even then he kept his hand over the top to make sure.

But I got so used to drinking wine that I was dying for it. And when I saw that my straw trick wouldn’t work, I decided to make a spout by carving a little hole in the bottom of the jug and then sealing it off neatly with a little thin strip of wax. When it was mealtime, I’d pretend I was cold and get in between the legs of the miserable blind man to warm up by the little fire we had. And the heat of it would melt the wax, since it was such a tiny piece. Then the wine would begin to trickle from the spout into my mouth, and I got into a position so that I wouldn’t miss a blasted drop. When the poor fellow went to drink he wouldn’t find a thing. He’d draw back, astonished, then he’d curse and damn the jar and the wine, not knowing what could have happened.

“You can’t say that I drank it, Sir,” I said, “since you never let it out of your hand.”

But he kept turning the jug around and feeling it, until he finally discovered the hole and saw through my trick. But he pretended that he hadn’t found out.

Then one day I was tippling on my jug as usual, without realizing what was in store for me or even that the blind man had found me out. I was sitting the same as always, taking in those sweet sips, my face turned toward the sky and my eyes slightly closed so I could really savor the delicious liquor. The dirty blind man saw that now was the time to take out his revenge on me, and he raised that sweet and bitter jug with both his hands and

smashed it down on my mouth with all his might. As I say, he used all his strength, and poor Lazaro hadn’t been expecting anything like this; in fact, I was drowsy and happy as always. So it seemed like the sky and everything in it had really fallen down on top of me. The little tap sent me reeling and knocked me unconscious, and that enormous jug was so huge that pieces of it stuck in my face, cutting me in several places and knocking out my teeth, so that I don’t have them to this very day.

From that minute I began to hate that old blind man.
Because, even though he took care of me and treated me all right and fixed me up, I saw that he had really enjoyed his dirty trick. He used wine to wash the places where the pieces of the jug had cut me, and he smiled and said, “How about that, Lazaro? The very thing that hurt you is helping to cure you.” And he made other witty remarks that I didn’t particularly care for.

When I had about recovered from the beating and the black and blue marks were nearly gone, I realized that with a few more blows like that the blind man would have gotten rid of me. So I decided to be rid of him. But I didn’t run away right then; I waited until I could do it in a safer and better way. And

although I wanted to be kind and forgive the blind man for hitting me with the jug, I couldn’t because of the harsh

treatment he gave me from then on. Without any reason he would hit me on the head and yank on my hair. And if anyone asked him why he beat me so much, he would tell them about the incident with the jug: “Do you think this boy of mine is just some innocent little fellow? Well, listen and see if you think the devil himself would try anything like this.”

After they’d heard about it, they would cross themselves and say, “Well–who would ever think that such a little boy would do anything like that!”

Then they’d laugh at the prank and tell him, “Go on, beat him. God will give you your reward.”

And this advice he followed to the letter.

So, for revenge, I’d lead him down all the worst roads on purpose to see if he wouldn’t get hurt somehow. If there were rocks, I’d take him right over them; if there was mud, I’d lead him through the deepest part. Because even though I didn’t keep dry myself, I would have given an eye if I could have hurt two eyes of that man who didn’t even have one. Because of this, he was always beating me with the end of his cane so that my head was full of bumps, and with him always pulling on my hair a lot of it was gone. I told him I wasn’t doing it on purpose and that I just couldn’t find any better roads, but that didn’t do any good. The old traitor saw through everything and was so wary that he

wouldn’t believe me any more.

So that you can see how smart this shrewd blind man was, I’ll tell you about one of the many times when I was with him that he really seemed to show a lot of perception. When we left Salamanca, his plan was to go to Toledo because the people were supposed to be richer there, although not very free with their money. But he pinned his hopes on this saying: “You’ll get more water from a narrow flowing stream than you will from a deep dry well.” And we’d pass through the best places as we went along. Where we were welcomed and were able to get something, we stayed; where this didn’t happen, we’d move on after a few days.

And it happened that as we were coming to a place called Almorox when they were gathering the grapes, a grape picker gave him a bunch as alms. And since the baskets are usually handled pretty roughly and the grapes were very ripe at the time, the bunch started to fall apart in his hand. If we had thrown it in the sack, it and everything it touched would have spoiled. He

decided that we’d have a picnic so that it wouldn’t go to waste– and he did it to please me, too, since he’d kicked and beat me quite a bit that day. So we sat down on a low wall, and he said: “Now I want to be generous with you: we’ll share this bunch of grapes, and you can eat as many as I do. We’ll divide it like this: you take one, then I’ll take one. But you have to promise me that you won’t take more than one at a time. I’ll do the same until we finish, and that way there won’t be any cheating.”

The agreement was made, and we began. But on his second turn, the traitor changed his mind and began to take two at a time, evidently thinking that I was doing the same. But when I saw that he had broken our agreement, I wasn’t satisfied with going at his rate of speed. Instead, I went even further: I took two at a time, or three at a time–in fact, I ate them as fast as I could. And when there weren’t any grapes left, he just sat there for a while with the stem in his hand, and then he shook his head and said, “Lazaro, you tricked me. I’ll swear to God that you ate these grapes three at a time.”

“No, I didn’t,” I said. “But why do you think so?”

That wise old blind man answered, “Do you know how I see that you ate them three at a time? Because I was eating them two at a time, and you didn’t say a word.”

I laughed to myself, and even though I was only a boy, I was very much aware of the sharpness of that blind man.

But, so that I won’t talk too much, I won’t tell about a lot of humorous and interesting things that happened to me with my first master. I just want to tell about how we separated, and be done with him.

We were in Escalona, a town owned by the duke of that name, at an inn, and the blind man gave me a piece of sausage to roast for him. When the sausage had been basted and he had sopped up and eaten the drippings with a piece of bread, he took a coin out of his purse and told me to go get him some wine from the tavern. Then the devil put an idea in my head, just like they say he does to thieves. It so happened that near the fire there was a little turnip, kind of long and beat up; it had probably been thrown there because it wasn’t good enough for stew.

At that moment he and I were there all alone, and when I whiffed the delicious odor of the sausage, I suddenly got a huge appetite– and I knew that all I would get of it would be the smell. But the thought of eating that sausage made me lose all my fear: I didn’t think for a minute what would happen to me. So while the blind man was getting the money out of his purse, I took the sausage off the spit and quickly put the turnip on. Then the blind man gave me the money for the wine and took hold of the spit, turning it over the fire, trying to cook the very thing that hadn’t been cooked before because it was so bad.

I went for the wine, and on the way I downed the sausage. When I came back I found that sinner of a blind man holding the turnip between two slices of bread. He didn’t know what it was yet, because he hadn’t felt of it. But when he took the bread and bit into it, thinking he would get part of the sausage too, he was suddenly stopped cold by the taste of the cold turnip. He got mad then, and said, “What is this, Lazarillo?”

“You mean, ‘Lacerated,'” I said. “Are you trying to pin something on me? Didn’t I just come back from getting the wine? Someone must have been here and played a joke on you.”

“Oh, no,” he said. “I haven’t let the spit out of my hand. No one could have done that.”

I kept swearing that I hadn’t done any switching around. But it didn’t do me any good–I couldn’t hide anything from the sharpness of that miserable blind man. He got up and grabbed me by the head and got close so he could smell me. And he must have smelled my breath like a good hound. Really being anxious to find out if he was right, he held on tight and opened my mouth wider than he should have. Then, not very wisely, he stuck in his nose. And it was long and sharp. And his anger had made it swell a bit, so that the point of it hit me in the throat.

So with all this and my being really frightened, along with the fact that the black sausage hadn’t had time to settle in my stomach, and especially with the sudden poking in of his very large nose, half choking me–all these things went together and made the crime and the snack show themselves, and the owner got back what belonged to him. What happened was that before the blind man could take his beak out of my mouth, my stomach got so upset that it hit his nose with what I had stolen. So his nose and the black, half-chewed sausage both left my mouth at the same time.

Oh, Almighty God! I was wishing I’d been buried at that very moment, because I was already dead. The perverse blind man was so mad that if people hadn’t come at the noise, I think he would have killed me. They pulled me out of his hands, and he was left with what few hairs had still been in my head. My face was all scratched up, and my neck and throat were clawed. But my throat really deserved its rough treatment because it was only on

account of what it had done that I’d been beaten. Then that rotten blind man told everyone there about the things I’d done, and he told them over and over about the jug and the grapes and this last incident.

They laughed so hard that all the people who were going by in the street came in to see the fun. But the blind man told them about my tricks with such wit and cleverness that, even though I was hurt and crying, I felt that it would have been wrong for me not to laugh too.

And while this was going on I suddenly remembered that I’d been negligent and cowardly, and I began to swear at myself: I should have bitten off his nose. I’d had the opportunity to do it; in fact, half of the work had already been done for me. If only I’d clamped down with my teeth, I’d have had it trapped. Even though it belonged to that skunk, my stomach would probably have held it better than it held the sausage; and since there wouldn’t have been any evidence, I could have denied the crime. I wish to God I’d have done it. It wouldn’t have been a bad idea at all!

The lady running the inn and the others there made us stop our fighting, and they washed my face and throat with the wine I’d brought for him to drink. Then the dirty blind man made up jokes about it, saying things like: “The truth of the matter is I use more wine washing this boy in one year than I drink in two.” And: “At least, Lazaro, you owe more to wine than you do to your father–he only gave you life once, but wine has brought you to life a thousand times.”

Then he told about all the times he’d beaten me and scratched my face and then doctored me up with wine.

“I tell you,” he said, “if there’s one man in the world who will be blessed by wine, it’s you.”

And the people who were washing me laughed out loud, while I was swearing.

But the blind man’s prophecy wasn’t wrong, and since then I’ve often thought about that man who must have had a gift for telling the future. And I feel sorry about the bad things I did to him, although I really paid him back, since what he told me that day happened just like he said it would, as you’ll see later on.

Because of this and the dirty tricks the blind man played on me, I decided to leave him for good. And since I had thought about it and really had my mind set on it, this last trick of his only made me more determined. So the next day we went into town to beg. It had rained quite a bit the night before, and since it was still raining that day, he went around praying under the arcades in the town so we wouldn’t get wet. But with night

coming on and there still being no let up, the blind man said to me, “Lazaro, this rain isn’t going to stop, and the later it gets the harder it’s coming down. Let’s go inside the inn before there’s a real downpour.”

To get there we had to cross over a ditch that was full of water from the rain. And I said to him; “Sir, the water’s too wide to cross here, but if you’d like, I see an easier place to get across, and we won’t get wet either. It’s very narrow there, and if we jump we’ll keep our feet dry.”

That seemed like a good idea to him, and he said, “You’re pretty clever. That’s why I like you so much. Take me to the place where the ditch is narrow. It’s winter now, and I don’t care for water any time, and especially not when I get my feet wet.”

Seeing that the time was ripe, I led him under the arcades, to a spot right in front of a sort of pillar or stone post that was in the plaza–one of those that hold up the overhanging arches of the houses. And I said to him, “Sir, this is the narrowest

place along the whole ditch.”

It was really raining hard and the poor man was getting wet. This, along with the fact that we were in a hurry to get out of the water that was pouring down on us–and especially because God clouded his mind so I could get revenge–made him believe me, and he said, “Point me in the right direction, and you jump over the water.”

I put him right in front of the pillar. Then I jumped and got behind the post like someone waiting for a bull to charge, and I said to him, “Come on, jump as far as you can so you’ll miss the water.”

As soon as I’d said that, the poor blind man charged like an old goat. First he took one step back to get a running start, and then he hurled himself forward with all his might. His head hit the post with a hollow sound like a pumpkin. Then he fell over backward, half dead, with his head split open.

“What? You mean to say you smelled the sausage but not the post? Smell it, smell it!” I said, and I left him in the hands of all the people who had run to help him.

I reached the village gate on the run, and before night fell I made it to Torrijos. I didn’t know what God had done with him, and I never made any attempt to find out.

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