Sunday, September 30, 2018

Hume’s Retelling of an Anecdote from Don Quixote

Don Quixote & Sancho Panza, by Gustave Doré 
David Hume, in his Of the Standard of Taste, retells an anecdote from Cervantes’s Don Quixote to bring clarity to his definition of delicacy of taste.

In Part II, Chapter XIII, of Don Quixote, Sancho Panza narrates to Don Quixote an anecdote about his two kinsmen, who, he brags, are such sensitive judges of wine that they can detect the taint of iron and leather imparted to a hogshead by the presence in it of a key on a thong. Here’s Hume’s retelling of Sancho Panza’s anecdote:
It is with good reason, says Sancho to the squire with the great nose, that I pretend to have a judgment in wine: This is a quality hereditary in our family. Two of my kinsmen were once called to give their opinion of a hogshead, which was supposed to be excellent, being old and of a good vintage. One of them tastes it; considers it; and, after mature reflection, pronounces the wine to be good, were it not for a small taste of leather, which he perceived in it. The other, after using the same precautions, gives also his verdict in favour of the wine; but with the reserve of a taste of iron, which he could easily distinguish. You cannot imagine how much they were both ridiculed for their judgment. But who laughed in the end? On emptying the hogshead, there was found at the bottom an old key with a leathern thong tied to it.
There are several differences between Hume’s retelling of the anecdote and what Cervantes has originally written. For instance, whereas Hume has the two tasters deliberating over their wine pronouncing it good, except for the slight taste of leather or iron, Cervantes says that the first only tried it with the tip of his tongue and the second sniffed it, without tasting any at all. Also, Hume says, “both were ridiculed for their judgement,” but this reaction is not there in the original. Finally, Hume refers to the cause of the taint as the “old key,” whereas Cervantes calls it the “little.”

Hume goes on to make the point that “sweet and bitter” are bodily tastes which refer to bodily experience, whereas “beauty and ugliness” are mental tastes, which can only be appreciated by those who possess a delicate and practiced sensibility.

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