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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616)

Doctor Glass-Case

From “Exemplary Tales”

SIX months did Rodaja remain confined to his bed; and during that time he not only became reduced to a skeleton, but seemed also to have lost the use of his faculties. Every remedy that could be thought of was tried in his behalf. But although the physicians succeeded in curing the physical malady, they could not remove that of the mind; so that when he was at last pronounced cured, he was still afflicted with the strangest madness that was ever heard of among the many kinds by which humanity has been assailed. The unhappy man imagined that he was entirely made of glass; and, possessed with this idea, when any one approached him he would utter the most terrible outcries, begging and beseeching them not to come near him, or they would assuredly break him to pieces, as he was not like other men, but entirely of glass from head to foot.

In the hope of rousing him from this strange hallucination, many persons, without regard to his prayers and cries, threw themselves upon him and embraced him, bidding him observe that he was not broken for all that. But all they gained by this was to see the poor creature sink to the earth, uttering lamentable moans, and instantly fall into a fainting fit, from which he could not be recovered for several hours; nay, when he did recover, it was but to renew his complaints, from which he never desisted but to implore that such a misfortune might not be suffered to happen again.

He exhorted every one to speak to him from a great distance, declaring that on this condition they might ask him what they pleased, and that he could reply with all the more effect, now he was a man of glass and not of flesh and bones; since glass, being a substance of more delicate subtlety, permits the soul to act with more promptitude and efficacy than it can be expected to do in the heavier body formed of mere earth.

Certain persons then desiring to ascertain if what he had said were true, asked him many questions of great difficulty respecting various circumstances; to all these he replied with the utmost acuteness, insomuch that his answers awakened astonishment in the most learned professors of medicine and philosophy whom that university could boast. And well they might be amazed at seeing a man who was subject to so strange an hallucination as that of believing himself to be made of glass, still retain such extraordinary judgment on other points as to be capable of answering difficult questions with the marvelous propriety and truth which distinguished the replies of Rodaja.

The poor man had often entreated that some case might be given to him wherein he might enclose the brittle vase of his body, so that he might not break it in putting on ordinary clothing. He was consequently furnished with a surplice of ample width, and a cloth wrapper, which he folded around him with much care, confining it to his waist with a girdle of soft cotton; but he would not wear any kind of shoes. The method he adopted to prevent any one from approaching him when they brought him food, was to fix an earthen pot into the cleft of a stick prepared for that purpose, and in this vessel he would receive such fruits as the season presented. He would not eat flesh or fish, nor would he drink anything but the water of the river, which he lapped from his hands.

In passing through the streets, Rodaja was in the habit of walking carefully in the middle of them, lest a tile should fall from the houses upon his head and break it. In the summer he slept in the open air, and in the winter he lodged at one of the inns, where he buried himself in straw to his throat, remarking that this was the most proper and secure bed for men of glass. When it thundered, Rodaja trembled like an aspen leaf, and would rush out into the fields, not returning to the city until the storm had passed.

His friends kept him shut up for some time, but perceiving that his malady increased, they at last complied with his earnest request that they would let him go about freely; and he might be seen walking through the streets of the city, dressed as we have described, to the astonishment and regret of all who knew him.

The boys soon got about him, but he kept them off with his staff, requesting them to speak to him from a distance, lest they should break him, seeing that he, being a man of glass, was exceedingly tender and brittle. But far from listening to his request, the boys, who are the most perverse generation in the world, soon began to throw various missiles and even stones at him, notwithstanding all his prayers and exclamations. They declared that they wished to see if he were in truth of glass, as he affirmed; but the lamentations and outcries of the poor maniac induced the grown persons who were near to reprove and even beat the boys, whom they drove away for the moment, but who did not fail to return at the next opportunity.

One day, when a horde of these tormentors had pursued him with more than their usual pertinacity, and had worn out his patience, he turned to them, saying, “What do you want with me, you varlets, more obstinate than flies, more disgusting than bugs, and bolder than the boldest fleas? Am I, perchance, the Monte Testacio of Rome, that you cast upon me so many potsherds and tiles?”

But Rodaja was followed by many who kept about him for the purpose of hearing him reply to the questions asked, or reprove the questioner, as the case might be. And after a time even the boys found it more amusing to listen to his words than to throw tiles at him, when they gave him, for the most part, somewhat less annoyance.

The maniac Rodaja was one day passing through the ropery at Salamanca, when a woman who was working there accosted him, and said, “By my soul, Sir Doctor, I am sorry for your misfortune, but what shall I do for you, since, try as I may, I cannot weep?”

To which Rodaja, fixedly regarding her, gravely replied, “Filiæ Jerusalem, plorate super vos et super filios vestros.”

The husband of the rope-worker was standing by, and, comprehending the reply, he said to Rodaja, “Brother Glass-case—for so they tell me you are to be called—you have more of the rogue than the fool in you!”

“You are not called on to give me an obolus,” rejoined Rodaja, “for I have not a grain of the fool about me!”

One day when he was passing near a house well known as the resort of thieves and other disorderly persons, he saw several of the inhabitants assembled round the door, and called out, “See, here you have baggage belonging to the army of Satan, and it is lodged in the house of hell accordingly.”

A man once asked him what advice he should give to a friend whose wife had left him for another, and who was in great sorrow for her loss. “You shall bid him thank God,” replied Rodaja, “for the favor he has obtained, in that his enemy is removed from his house.”

“Then you would not have him go seek her?” inquired the other.

“Let him not even think of doing so,” returned Rodaja, “for if he find her, what will he have gained but the perpetual evidence of his dishonor?”

“And what shall I do to keep peace with my own wife?” inquired the same person.

“Give her all that she can need or rightfully claim,” said the maniac, “and let her be mistress of every person and thing thy house contains, but take care that she be not mistress of thyself.”

A boy one day said to him, “Master Glass-case, I have a mind to run away from my father, and leave my home forever, because he beats me.”

“I would have thee beware, boy,” replied Rodaja. “The stripes given by a father are no dishonor to the son, and may save him from those of the hangman, which are indeed a disgrace.”

Intelligence of his peculiar state, with a description of the replies he gave and the remarks he uttered, was much spread abroad, more especially among those who had known him in different parts, and great sorrow was expressed for the loss of a man who had given so fair a promise of distinction. A person of high rank then at court wrote to a friend of his at Salamanca, begging that Rodaja might be sent to him at Valladolid, and charging his friend to make all needful arrangements for that purpose. The gentleman consequently accosted Vidriera the next time he met him, and said, “Dr. Glass-case, you are to know that a great noble of the court is anxious to have you go to Valladolid.”

Whereupon Rodaja replied, “Your Worship will excuse me to that nobleman, and say that I am not fit to dwell at court, nor in the palace, because I have some sense of shame left, and do not know how to flatter.”

He was nevertheless persuaded to go, and the mode in which he traveled was as follows: a large pannier of that kind in which glass is transported was prepared, and in this Rodaja was placed, well defended by straw, which was brought up to his neck, the opposite pannier being carefully balanced by means of stones, among which appeared the necks of bottles, since Rodaja desired it to be understood that he was sent as a vessel of glass. In this fashion he journeyed to Valladolid, which city he entered by night, and was not unpacked until he had first been carefully deposited in the house of the noble who had requested his presence.

By this gentleman he was received with much kindness, and the latter said to him, “You are extremely welcome, Dr. Glass-case. I hope you have had a pleasant journey.”

Rodaja replied that no journey could be called a bad one if it took you safe to your end, unless, indeed, it were that which led to the gallows.

Being one day shown the falconry, wherein were numerous falcons and other birds of similar kind, he remarked that the sport pursued by means of those birds was entirely suitable to great nobles, since the cost was as two thousand to one of the profit.

When it pleased Rodaja to go forth into the city, the nobleman caused him to be attended by a servant, whose office it was to protect him from intrusion, and see that he was not molested by the boys of the place, by whom he was at once remarked. Indeed, but few days elapsed before he became known to the whole city, since he never failed to find a reply for all who questioned or consulted him.

Among those of the former class, there once came a student, who inquired if he were a poet; to which Rodaja replied, that up to the moment they had then arrived at he had neither been so stupid nor so bold as to become a poet. “I do not understand what you mean by so stupid or so bold, Dr. Glass-case,” rejoined the student. To which Rodaja made answer, “I am not so stupid as to be a bad poet, nor so bold as to think myself capable of being a good one.”

The student then inquired in what estimation he held poets, to which he answered that he held the poets themselves in but little esteem; but as to their art, that he esteemed greatly. His hearer inquiring further what he meant by that, Rodaja said that among the innumerable poets, by courtesy so called, the number of good ones was so small as scarcely to count at all, and that as the bad were not true poets, he could not admire them; but that he admired and even reverenced greatly the art of poetry, which does in fact comprise every other in itself, since it avails itself of all things, and purifies and beautifies all things, bringing its own marvelous productions to light for the advantage, the delectation, and the wonder of the world, which it fills with its benefits. He added further, “I know thoroughly to what extent and for what qualities we ought to estimate the good poet, since I perfectly well remember certain verses of Ovid,” which he proceeded to quote. He then went on:

“Who is there that has not seen a wretched scribbler longing to bring some sonnet to the ears of his neighbors? How he goes round and round them, with ‘Will your Worships excuse me if I read you a little sonnet, which I made one night on a certain occasion? for it appears to me, although indeed it be worth nothing, to have yet a certain something that I might call pretty and pleasing.’ Then shall he twist his lips, and arch his eyebrows, and make a thousand antics, diving into his pockets meanwhile and bringing out half a hundred scraps of paper, greasy and torn, as if he had made a good million of sonnets. He then recites that which he proffered to the company, reading it in a chanting and affected voice. If, perchance, those who hear him, whether because of their knowledge or their ignorance, should fail to commend him, he says, ‘Either your Worships have not listened to the verses, or I have not been able to read them properly, for in deed and in truth they deserve to be heard.’ And he begins, as before, to recite his poem, with new gestures and varied pauses….”

Rodaja was once asked how it happened that poets were always poor, to which he replied:

“If they were poor, it was because they chose to be so, since it was always in their power to be rich, if they would only take advantage of the opportunities in their hands. For see how rich are their ladies!” he added. “Have they not all a very profusion of wealth in their possession? Is not their hair of gold? Are not their brows of burnished silver, their eyes of the most precious jewels, their lips of coral, their throats of ivory and transparent crystal? Are not their tears liquid pearls, and where they plant the soles of their feet do not jasmine and roses spring up at the moment, however rebellious and sterile the earth may previously have been? Then what is their breath but pure amber, musk, and frankincense? Yet to whom do all these things belong, if not to the poets? They are, therefore, manifest signs and proofs of their great riches.”

In this manner he always spoke of bad poets. As to the good ones, he was loud in their praise, and exalted them above the horns of the moon.

Being at San Francisco, he one day saw some very indifferent pictures, by an incapable hand; whereupon he remarked that the good painters imitate Nature, while the bad ones have the impertinence to daub her face.

Having planted himself one day in front of a bookseller’s shop with great care, to avoid being broken, he began to talk to the owner, and said, “This trade would please me greatly were it not for one fault that it has.”

The bookseller inquiring what that might be, Rodaja replied, “It is the tricks you play on the writers when you purchase the copyright of a book, and the sport you make of the author if, perchance, he desire to print at his own cost. For what is your method of proceeding? Instead of the one thousand five hundred copies which you agree to print for him, you print three thousand; and when the author supposes that you are selling his books, you are but disposing of your own.”

One of those men who carry sedan-chairs, once standing by while Rodaja was enumerating the faults committed by various trades and occupations, remarked to the latter, “Of us, Sir Doctor, you can find nothing amiss to say.”

“Nothing,” replied Rodaja, “except that you are made acquainted with more sins than are known to the confessor; but with this difference, that the confessor learns them to keep all secret, but you to make them the public talk of the taverns.”

A muleteer who heard this—for all kinds of people were continually listening to him—said aloud, “There is little or nothing that you can say of us, Sir Phial, for we are people of great worth, and very useful servants to the commonwealth.”

To which the man of glass replied, “The honor of the master exalts the honor of the servant. You, therefore, who call those who hire your mules your masters, see whom you serve, and what honor you may borrow from them; for your employers are some of the dirtiest rubbish that this earth endures.

“Once, when I was not a man of glass, I was traveling on a mule which I had hired, and I counted in her master one hundred and twenty-one defects, all capital ones, and all enemies to the human kind. All muleteers have a touch of the ruffian, a spice of the thief, and a dash of the mountebank. If their masters, as they call those they take on their mules, be of the butter-mouthed kind, they play more pranks with them than all the rogues of this city could perform in a year. If they be strangers, the muleteers rob them; if students, they malign them; if monks, they blaspheme them; but if soldiers, they tremble before them. These men, with the sailors, the carters, and the pack carriers, lead a sort of life which is truly singular, and belongs to themselves alone.

“The carter passes the greater part of his days in a space not more than a yard and a half long, for there cannot be much more between the yoke of his mules and the mouth of his cart. He is singing for one-half of his time, and blaspheming the other; and if he have to drag one of his wheels out of a hole in the mire, he is more aided, as it might seem, by two great oaths than by three strong mules.

“The mariners are a pleasant people, but very unlike those of the towns, and they can speak no other language than that used in ships. When the weather is fine they are very diligent, but very idle when it is stormy. During a tempest they order much and obey little. Their ship, which is their mess-room, is also their god, and their pastime is the torment endured by seasick passengers.

“As to the muleteers, they are a race which has taken out a divorce from all sheets, and has married the pack-saddle. So diligent and careful are these excellent men, that to save themselves from losing a day they will lose their souls. Their music is the tramp of a hoof; their sauce is hunger; their matins are an exchange of abuse and bad words; their Mass is—to hear none at all.”

While speaking thus, Rodaja stood at an apothecary’s door, and, turning to the master of the shop, he said, “Your Worship’s occupation would be a most salutary one if it were not so great an enemy to your lamps.”

“Wherein is my trade an enemy to my lamps?” asked the apothecary.

“In this way,” replied Rodaja: “whenever other oils fail you, immediately you take that of the lamp, as being the one which most readily comes to hand. But there is, indeed, another fault in your trade, and one that would suffice to ruin the best accredited physician in the world.”

Being asked what that was, he replied that an apothecary never ventured to confess, or would admit, that any drug was absent from his stock; and so, if he have not the medicine prescribed, he makes use of some other which, in his opinion, has the same virtues and qualities; but as that is very seldom the case, the medicine, being badly compounded, produces an effect contrary to that expected by the physician.

Rodaja was then asked what he thought of the physicians themselves, and he replied as follows:

“The judge may distort or delay the justice which he should render us; the lawyer may support an unjust demand; the merchant may help us to squander our estate, and, in a word, all those with whom we have to deal in common life may do us more or less injury; but to kill us without fear, and standing quietly at his ease, unsheathing no other sword than that wrapped in the folds of a recipe, and without being subject to any danger of punishment, that can be done only by the physician; he alone can escape all fear of the discovery of his crimes, because at the moment of committing them he puts them under the earth. When I was a man of flesh, and not of glass, as I now am, I saw many things that might be adduced in support of what I have now said, but the relation of these I defer to some other time.”

A certain person asked him what he should do to avoid envying another, and Rodaja bade him go to sleep—“For,” said he, “while you sleep you will be the equal of him whom you envy.”

It happened on another occasion that the criminal judge passed before the place where Rodaja stood. There was a great crowd of people, and two constables attended the magistrate, who was proceeding to his court, when Rodaja inquired his name. Being told, he replied:

“Now, I would lay a wager that this judge has vipers in his bosom, pistols in his inkhorn, and flashes of lightning in his hands, to destroy all that shall come within his commission. I once had a friend who inflicted so exorbitant a sentence in respect to a criminal commission which he held, that it exceeded by many carats the amount of guilt incurred by the crime of the delinquents. I inquired of him wherefore he had uttered so cruel a sentence and committed so manifest an injustice. To which he answered that he intended to grant permission of appeal, and that in this way he left the field open for the lords of the council to show their mercy by moderating and reducing that too rigorous punishment to its due proportions. But I told him it would have been still better for him to have given such a sentence as would have rendered their labor unnecessary, by which means he would also have merited and obtained the reputation of being a wise and exact judge.”

Among the number of those by whom Rodaja was constantly surrounded was an acquaintance of his own, who permitted himself to be saluted as the Doctor, although Rodaja knew well that he had not taken even the degree of bachelor. To him, therefore, he one day said:

“Take care, gossip mine, that you and your title do not meet with the Fathers of the Redemption, for they will certainly take possession of your doctorship as being a creature unrighteously detained captive.”

“Let us behave well to each other, Dr. Glass-case,” said the other, “since you know that I am a man of high and profound learning.”

“I know you rather to be a Tantalus in the same,” replied Rodaja; “for if learning reach high to you, you are never able to plunge into its depths.”

He was one day leaning against the stall of a tailor, who was seated with his hands before him, and to whom he said, “Without doubt, you are in the way to salvation.”

“From what symptom do you judge me to be so, Sir Doctor?” inquired the tailor.

“From the fact that, as you have nothing to do, so you have nothing to lie about, and may cease lying, which is a great step.”

Of the shoemakers he said that not one of that trade ever performed his office badly; seeing that if the shoe be too narrow, and pinches the foot, the shoemaker says, “In two hours it will be as wide as a cord sandal”; or he declares it right that it should be narrow, since the shoe of a gentleman must needs fit closely; and if it be too wide, he maintains that it still ought to be so, for the ease of the foot, and lest a man should have the gout.

Seeing the waiting-maid of an actress attending her mistress, he said she was much to be pitied who had to serve so many women, to say nothing of the men whom she also had to wait on. The bystanders requiring to know how the damsel, who had but to serve one, could be said to wait on so many, he replied, “Is she not the waiting-maid of a queen, a nymph, a goddess, a scullery-maid, and a shepherdess? Besides that, she is also the servant of a page and a lackey. For all these, and many more, are in the person of an actress.”

Some one asked Rodaja who had been the happiest man in the world. To which he answered, “Nobody; because nobody knows who his father is, nobody lives blameless, nobody is satisfied with his lot, and nobody goes to heaven.”

Of the fencing-masters he said that they were professors of an art which was never to be known when it was most wanted, since they pretended to reduce to mathematical demonstrations, which are infallible, the angry thoughts and movements of a man’s adversaries.

To such men as dyed their beards Rodaja always exhibited a particular enmity. One day, observing a Portuguese, whose beard he knew to be dyed, in dispute with a Spaniard, to whom he said, “I swear by the beard that I wear on my face,” Rodaja called out to him, “Halt there, friend! You should not say that you wear on your face, but that you dye on your face.”

To another, whose beard had been streaked by an imperfect dye, Dr. Glass-case said, “Your beard is true dust-colored piebald.”

He related, on another occasion, that a certain damsel, discreetly conforming to the will of her parents, had agreed to marry an old man with a white beard, who, on the evening before his marriage was to take place, thought fit to have his beard dyed, and whereas he had taken it from the sight of his betrothed as white as snow, he presented it at the altar with a color blacker than that of pitch. Seeing this, the damsel turned to her parents and requested them to give her the spouse they had promised, saying that she would have him, and no other. They assured her that he whom she there saw was the person they had before shown her, and given her for her spouse; but she refused to believe it, maintaining that he whom her parents had given her was a grave person, with a white beard. Nor was she by any means to be persuaded that the dyed man before her was her betrothed, and the marriage was broken off.

Toward elderly ladies’ companions he entertained as great a dislike as toward those who dyed their beards; uttering wonderful things respecting their falsehood and affectation, their tricks and pretenses, their simulated scruples and their real wickedness; reproaching them with their fancied maladies of stomach, and the frequent giddiness with which they were afflicted in the head. Nay, even their mode of speaking was made the subject of his censure; and he declared that there were more turns in their speech than folds in their great togas and wide gowns. Finally, he declared them altogether useless, if not much worse.

Being one day much tormented by a hornet which settled on his neck, he nevertheless refused to take it off, lest in seeking to catch the insect he should break himself; but he still complained wofully of the sting. Some one then remarked to him that it was scarcely to be supposed he would feel it much, since his whole person was of glass. But Rodaja replied that the hornet in question must needs be a slanderer, seeing that slanderers were of a race whose tongues were capable of penetrating bodies of bronze, to say nothing of glass.

A monk who was enormously fat one day passed near where Rodaja was sitting, when one who stood by ironically remarked that the father was so reduced and consumptive as scarcely to be capable of walking. Offended by this, Rodaja exclaimed, “Let none forget the words of holy Scripture, ‘Nolite tangere Christos meos’”; and, becoming still more heated, he bade those around him reflect a little, when they would see that, of the many saints canonized and placed among the number of the blessed by the Church within a few years in those parts, none had been called Captain Don Such a One, or Lawyer Don So-and-So, or Marquis of Such a Place; but all were Brother Diego, Brother Jacinto, or Brother Raimundo, all monks and friars, proceeding, that is to say, from the monastic orders. “These,” he added, “are the orange-trees of heaven, whose fruits are placed on the table of God.”

Of evil-speakers Rodaja said that they were like the feathers of the eagle, which gnaw, wear away, and reduce to nothing, whatever feathers of other birds are mingled with them in beds or cushions, how good soever those feathers may be.

Concerning the keepers of gaming-houses he uttered wonders, and many more than can here be repeated—commending highly the patience of a certain gamester, who would remain all night playing and losing. Yea, though of choleric disposition by nature, he would never open his mouth to complain, although he was suffering the martyrdom of Barabbas, provided only his adversary did not cut the cards. In a word, Rodaja uttered so many sage remarks that, had it not been for the cries he sent forth when any one approached near enough to touch him, and for his peculiar dress, slight food, strange manner of eating, sleeping in the air, or lying buried in straw, no one would have supposed but that he was one of the most acute persons in the world.