Notes on the translation of Don Quixote

The real Don Quixote

If you look up the source of `don't keep all your eggs in one basket' in any standard source (such as Bartlett's Familiar Quotations) you will find a citation like:

"It is the part of a wise man to keep himself today for tomorrow, and not venture all his eggs in one basket." -- Sancho Panza

Don Quixote (Part I, Book III, Chapter 9) by Miguel de Cervantes [1547-1616].

If you look for an on-line copy of Don Quixote you will find several copies (one, two, three, four) of an 1885 translation by John Ormsby, but you won't be able to find any sayings about `eggs in one basket'. You won't even be able to find the Book III mentioned in Bartlett, but in Chapter 23 (`OF WHAT BEFELL DON QUIXOTE IN THE SIERRA MORENA, WHICH WAS ONE OF THE RAREST ADVENTURES RELATED IN THIS VERACIOUS HISTORY') you will find the following paragraph which contains a phrase similar to the first part of the saying from Bartlett:

"Senor," replied Sancho, "to retire is not to flee, and there is no wisdom in waiting when danger outweighs hope, and it is the part of wise men to preserve themselves to-day for to-morrow, and not risk all in one day; and let me tell you, though I am a clown and a boor, I have got some notion of what they call safe conduct; so repent not of having taken my advice, but mount Rocinante if you can, and if not I will help you; and follow me, for my mother-wit tells me we have more need of legs than hands just now."

If you find an book edition based on a translation by Jarvas you won't find any eggs either (with one known exception: a Victorian edition edited by F.W. Clarke that contains `occasional corrections from Motteaux'). The following sentence is in an 1801 version published by William Miller, Old Bond Street, London, page 264 and newer editions based on the same translation:

... and it is the part of wise men to secure themselves to-day for to-morrow, and not to adventure all upon one throw.

Brendan Twomey provides the following information: My oldest copy is a 1796 copy of Smollet's translation published by John Chambers in Dublin. In Book III Chapter IX Of what befell the renowned Don Quixote in the brown mountain ; being one of the most surprising adventures recounted in this true history. on page 301 '' Sir, replied Sancho, to retreat is not to fly, nor is it prudent to tarry when the danger overbalances the hope ; and it is always the practice of wise people to reserve something for tomorrow, without venturing all upon one cast ; '' Once again no eggs and or baskets.

If you head to the library for a newer English translation, you will have a similar result. For example, in the 1948 translation by Samuel Putnam you will find the phrase rendered as:

Where danger outweighs hope, wise men save themselves for the morrow and do not venture all upon a single day.

If you then go to the Spanish language section of the library you will find that the sentences shown above are good translations -- the Spanish version of that sentence has nothing about eggs or baskets. Brendan Twomey has several other Engligh translations without references to eggs, and no similar phrase occurs in a German translation.

So where did the Quixote eggs come from?

One source of the `eggs in a basket' phrase is a Don Quixote translation from the early 1700s by Peter Motteux. (The publication date is listed as 1700 in the on-line The Don Quixote Exhibit, the thirteenth edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (1955) says it was translated in 1700-1703, and the introduction of the Ormsby translation found on-line says it was published in 1712.) Early editions say that this translation was `translated from the original by several hands and published by Peter Motteux'. This translation is broken into `books' and the twenty-third chapter is indeed the Book III, Chapter 9 mentioned in Bartlett. The title of the chaper is `WHAT BEFELL THE RENOWNED DON QUIXOTE IN THE SIERRA MORENA (BLACK MOUNTAIN), BEING ONE OF THE RAREST ADVENTURES IN THIS AUTHENTIC HISTORY' and the paragraph quoted above is translated as:

"If it please your worship," quoth Sancho, "to withdraw is not to run away, and to stay is no wise action when there is more reason to fear than to hope. It is the part of a wise man to keep himself today for tomorrow, and not to venture all his eggs in one basket. And though I am but a clown, or a bumpkin, as you may say, yet I would have you to know what is what, and I have always taken care of the main chance; therefore do not be ashamed of being ruled by me, but even get on horseback if you are able: come, I will help you, and then follow me; for my mind plaguely misgives me that now one pair of heels will stand us in more stead than two pair of hands."

In the books I have read, later writers, especially translators, have disparaged the Motteux translation. For example:

The principal English translations are ...; that of Motteux, absurdly over-praised by Lockhart, which is nothing more than a loose paraphrase of Cervantes's[sic] text, in a style consciously comic and therefore of all the most unhappy for Don Quixote; ....

CERVANTES-SAAVEDRA, Miguel de (1547-1616), by Henry Edward Watts, The Encyclopaedia Britannica with new American suppliment, 1898, volume V, pages 347-356.

Or the following:

A further illustration may be found in the version published in 1712 by Peter Motteux, who had then recently combined tea-dealing with literature. It is described as "translated from the original by several hands," but if so all Spanish flavour has entirely evaporated under the manipulation of the several hands. The flavour that it has, on the other hand, is distinctly Franco-cockney. Anyone who compares it carefully with the original will have little doubt that it is a concoction from Shelton and the French of Filleau de Saint Martin, eked out by borrowings from Phillips, whose mode of treatment it adopts. It is, to be sure, more decent and decorous, but it treats "Don Quixote" in the same fashion as a comic book that cannot be made too comic.

To attempt to improve the humour of "Don Quixote" by an infusion of cockney flippancy and facetiousness, as Motteux's operators did, is not merely an impertinence like larding a sirloin of prize beef, but an absolute falsification of the spirit of the book, and it is a proof of the uncritical way in which "Don Quixote" is generally read that this worse than worthless translation -worthless as failing to represent, worse than worthless as misrepresenting- should have been favoured as it has been.

Translator's Introduction, John Ormsby, 1885.

Another example of Motteux playing fast and loose with proverbs was found by Gareth Penn: `the proof of the pudding is in the eating' is attributed by some editions of Bartlett's to Cervantes, but the phrase comes from the translation of `There will be laughter at the frying of the eggs'. That's another interesting translation, but I'll let Gareth set up his own web page on that topic.

The Ormsby description of the Motteux makes me wonder if the phrase came from the 1687 English translation of John Philips. The French translation of Filleau de Saint Martin (as printed in Paris in 1826 by D'Augeste Barthelemy and later editions) does not refer to eggs, it talks about `sans aventurer tout a un seul coup;' (thanks to Brendan Twomey). The other translation mentioned, that of Thomas Shelton, was the first English translation of Don Quixote and does not contain the `eggs in a basket' phrase. (Part I of the Shelton translation was published in 1612. I examined a book based on the 1620 Shelton edition. The Shelton transation is available online at BiblioBytes.)

The Motteux translation isn't the only version with the `eggs in a basket' saying, the Don Quixote quotations from the on-line edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations (the ninth edition published in 1901) use the Lockhart translation and have the phrase. This explains why Lockhart (as mentioned above) would praise the Motteux version. The expression is also found in the 1719 `revision' of the Motteux translation by John Ozell.

The origin of the eggs

One of the criticisms of the Motteux translation from the Translator's Introduction of the Putnam translation is:

... the substitution of English for Spanish proverbs where there is often no close correspondence....

Using this as a hint, I searched for earlier references to the phrase and found:

1666 G. Torriano Second Alphabet of Proverbial Phrases
125/2 To put all ones Eggs in a Paniard, viz. to hazard all in one bottom.

A Suppliment to the Oxford English Dictionary, Volumes I-IV.

(Although included in a citation, the word `Paniard' isn't defined in the Oxford English Dictionary. It was pointed out to me that the word resembles several words for basket: `pannier' or `panier' (a large basket, or a double basket for a beast of burden) in English, `paniere' or `paniera' in Italian, `panier' in French, `panarium' in Latin. The OED lists several variant and obsolete spellings of `pannier', but none that end in `d'.)

I also found:

Don't keep all your eggs in one basket.
1st cit: 1666 Torriano, Common Place of Italian Proverbs

A Dictionary of American Proverbs, Oxford University Press, 1992.

And, in spite of the `first citation' notation in the previous entry:

1662 G. Torriano Italian Proverbial Phrases
125 To put all ones Eggs in a Paniard, viz. to hazard all in one bottom.

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, John Simpson, Oxford University Press, 1982.

A footnote indicates that `a bottom' should be interpreted as `a ship's hull; a boat'. Note the similarity between the `125' in this entry and the `125/2' in the Second Alphabet entry above.

In addition to the three books mentioned above, Giovanni Torriano was also the author of A dictionary Italian and English, formerly compiled by John Florio, now diligently revised 1659. These references lead me believe that the phrase probably came to English from Italian, and from common English usage into the Motteux translation of Don Quixote.

Another early reference to the phrase is:

Don't venture all your eggs in one basket.
[Samuel Palmer (1741-1813): Moral Essays on Proverbs]

Dictionary of Quotations, 194:13, collected by Bergen Evans, 1968.

While this work is not earlier than the Motteux translation, the essay might have hints about the origin of the phrase. (In The Home Book of Proverbs, Maxims and Familiar Phrases edited by Burton Stevenson (1948), the publication date of Moral Essays is listed as 1710, and the quotation is listed as being on page 344.)

If you have access to a copy of either works by Torriano or Palmer's Moral Essays, a definition for Paniard, access to any early translations of Don Quixote, especially that of John Phillips in 1687, or any other information on the origin of the phrase `don't keep all your eggs in one basket', please so I can add to this page.

My thanks to Brendan Twomey and the staff of the Information desks at the Leominster Public Library and Worcester Public Library for their assistance in my research.

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Last modified 09:17 Saturday 28 March 2009.