"How Lazaro Became a Hermit" from The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes (La Vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades)

With its adventuresome picaresque protagonist unmasking disreputable and corrupt clergy,"The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes" ("La vida de Lazarillo de Tormes y de sus fortunas y adversidades") represents the first Spanish novel. The work was published in 1554, anonymously because of its obvious heretical content. The selection here titled "How Lazaro Became a Hermit" mocks both the hermit ideal and the morals of Catholic clergy in general. The anonymous work appeared in print shortly after the Spanish Inquisition began to concentrate on finding Lutherans in Spain. This translation is from Robert S. Rudder (New York: Ungar, 1975) in the public domain.

Chapter II. Section XV. How Lazaro Became a Hermit.

Stretched out at the door of the church and reviewing my past life, I thought over the misery I had gone through from the day I began to serve the blind man down to the present. And I came to the conclusion that even if a man always rises early, that doesn't make dawn come any earlier, and if you work hard, that won't necessarily make you rich. And there's a saying that goes like this: "The early riser fails where God's help succeeds." I put myself in His hands so that the end would be better than the beginning and the middle had been.

A venerable, white-bearded hermit was next to me with his staff and a rosary in his hand, and at the end of the rosary hung a skull the size of a rabbit's.

When the good Father saw me in such misery he began to console me with kind, soft words, and he asked me where I was from and what had happened to bring me to such a pitiful state. I told him very briefly the long process of my bitter pilgrimage. He was astonished by what I said and showed his pity on me by inviting me to his hermitage. I accepted the invitation, and as well as I could (which wasn't painlessly) I reached the oratory with him, a few miles from there, in the side of a hill. Attached to it was a little house with a bedroom and a bed. In the patio was a cistern with fresh water, and it was used to water a garden--neater and better cared for than it was large.

"I have been living here," said the good old man, "for twenty years, apart from the commotion and anxiety of man. This, brother, is earthly paradise. Here I contemplate both divine and human matters. Here I fast when I am well fed, and I eat when I am hungry. Here I stay awake when I can't sleep, and I sleep when I grow tired. Here I have solitude when no one is with me, and I have company when I am not alone. Here I sing when I am happy, and I cry when I am sad. Here I work when I'm not idle, and I am idle when I don't work. Here I think about my past bad life, and I contemplate the good one I have now. And, finally, here nothing is known, and the knowledge of all things is attained."

I rejoiced in my heart to listen to the cunning hermit, and I begged him to tell me about hermit life, since it seemed to be the best in the world.

"What do you mean, the best?" he answered. "Only a person who has enjoyed it can know how good it really is. But we don't have time to speak further of this because it's time to have dinner."

I begged him to heal my arm because it hurt very much. He did it so easily that from then on it never bothered me. We ate like kings and drank like Germans. After the meal was over, and while we were taking an afternoon nap, my good hermit began to shout, "I'm dying! I'm dying!"

I got up and saw that he looked like he was about to breathe his last. And I asked him if he really was dying.

"Yes, yes, yes!" he answered.

And still repeating "yes," he died an hour later.

But at the time he told me that, I was very upset. I realized that if the man died without witnesses, people might say I had killed him, and it would cost me the life I had kept up with such hard work. And it wouldn't take very weighty witnesses for that because I looked more like a robber than an honest man. I immediately ran out of the hermitage to see if anyone was around who could be a witness to the old man's death. I looked everywhere and saw a flock of sheep nearby. I quickly (although painfully because of the beating I had gotten in the tailor skirmish) went toward it. I found six or seven shepherds and four or five shepherdesses resting in the shade of some willows, next to a shining, clear spring. The men were playing instruments and the women were singing. Some were capering, others were dancing. One of the men was holding a woman's hand, another was resting with his head on a woman's lap. And they were spending the heat of the day wooing each other with sweet words.

I ran up to them, terrified, and begged them to come with me right away because the old hermit was dying. Some of them came along while others stayed behind to watch over the sheep. They went into the hermitage and asked the good hermit if he was approaching death. He said, "Yes" (but that was a lie because he wasn't going anywhere: it was death that was approaching him, and against his will). When I saw that he was still in his rut about saying yes, I asked him if he wanted those shepherds to be witnesses for his last will and testament. He answered, "Yes."

I asked him if he was leaving me as his sole and lawful heir. He said, "Yes." I went on, asking if he acknowledged and confessed that everything he possessed or might possess he was leaving to me for services and other things he had received from me. Again he said, "Yes."

I was wishing that would be the last noise he'd make, but I saw that he still had a little breath left in him, and, so that he wouldn't do me any harm with it, I went on with my questions and had one of the shepherds write down everything he said. The shepherd wrote on a wall with a piece of coal since we didn't have an inkwell or a pen.

I asked him if he wanted that shepherd to sign for him since he was in no position to do it himself, and he died, saying, "Yes, yes, yes."

We went ahead and buried him: we dug a grave in his garden (and did it all very quickly because I was afraid he might come back to life). I invited the shepherds to have something to eat; they didn't want to because it was time to feed their sheep. They went away, giving me their condolences.

I locked the door of the hermitage and walked all around the inside. I found a huge jug of good wine, another one full of oil, and two crocks of honey. He had two sides of bacon, a good quantity of jerked beef, and some dried fruit. I liked all of this very much, but it wasn't what I was looking for. I found his chests full of linens, and in the corner of one of them was a woman's dress. This surprised me, but what surprised me even more was that such a well-provided man wouldn't have any money. I went to the grave to ask him where he had put it.

It seemed to me that after I had asked him he answered: "You stupid fellow. Do you think that living out here in the country the way I do, at the mercy of thieves and bandits, I would keep it in a coffer where I'd be in danger of losing what I loved more than my own life?"

It was as if I had really heard this inspiration from his mouth, and it made me look around in every corner. But when I didn't find anything, I thought: If I were going to hide money here so no one else could find it, where would I put it? And I said to myself: In that altar. I went over to it and took the frontpiece of the altar off the pedestal, which was made of mud and clay. On one side I saw a crack that a silver coin could fit into. My blood started humming, and my heart began to flutter. I picked up a spade, and in less than two clouts I had half the altar on the ground, and I discovered the relics that were buried there. I found a jar full of coins. I counted them, and there were six hundred silver pieces. I was so overjoyed at the discovery that I thought I would die. I took the money out of there and dug a hole outside the hermitage where I buried it so that if they turned me out of there I would have what I loved most outside.

When this was done I put on the hermit's garb and went into town to tell the prior of the brotherhood what had happened. But first I didn't forget to put the altar back the way it had been before. I found all the members of the brotherhood that the hermitage depended on together there. The hermitage was dedicated to Saint Lazarus, and I thought that was a good sign for me. The members saw that I was already gray-haired and of an exemplary appearance, which is the most important part of positions like this. There was, however, one difficulty, and that was that I didn't have a beard. I had sheared it off such a short time before that it hadn't yet sprung back. But even with this, seeing by the shepherds' story that the dead man had left me as his heir, they turned the hermitage over to me.

About this business of beards, I remember what a friar told me once: In his order, and even in the most reformed orders, they wouldn't make anyone a Superior unless he had a good beard. So it happened that some of them who were very capable of being in that position were excluded, and others who were woolly were given the position (as if good administration depended on hair and not on mature, capable understanding).

They warned me to live with the virtuous character and good reputation my predecessor had had, which was so great that everyone thought him a saint. I promised them I would live like a Hercules. They advised me to beg for alms only on Tuesdays and Saturdays because if I did it any other day the friars would punish me. I promised to do whatever they ordered me, and I especially didn't want to make enemies of them because I had previously experienced the taste of their hands. I began to beg for alms from door to door, with a low, humble, devout tone, the way I had learned in the blind man's school. I didn't do this because I was in need, but because it's the beggar's character that the more they have the more they ask for and the more pleasure they get from doing it. The people who heard me calling, "Alms for the candles of Saint Lazarus," and didn't recognize my voice, came out their doors and were astonished when they saw me. They asked me where Father Anselmo was (that was the name of the good old fellow). I told them he had died.

Some said, "May he rest in peace, he was such a good man."

Others said, "His soul is in the glory of God."

And some, "God bless the man whose life was like his: he ate nothing warm for six years."

And others, "He lived on bread and water."

Some of the foolish pious women got down on their knees and called on the name of Father Anselmo. One asked me what I had done with his garb. I told her I was wearing it. She took out some scissors, and without saying what she wanted she began to cut a piece from the first part she found, which was the crotch. When I saw her going after that part, I started to shout because I thought she was trying to castrate me.

When she saw how upset I was, she said, "Don't worry, brother. I want some relics from that blessed man, and I'll pay you for the damage to your robe."

"Oh," some said, "before six months are up they are certain to canonize him because he's performed so many miracles."

So many people came to see his grave that the house was always full, so I had to move the grave out to a shelter in front of the hermitage. From then on I didn't beg alms for the candles of Saint Lazarus, but for the blessed Father Anselmo. I have never understood this business of begging alms to light the candles of saints. But I don't want to continue on this note because it will sound bad. I wasn't at all interested in going to the city because I had everything I wanted at the hermitage. But, so no one could say I was rich and that's why I didn't go out begging alms, I went the next day, and there something happened to me that you'll find out if you read:

XVI. How Lazaro Decided to Marry Again.

In this following chapter, it is revealed that Anselmo the hermit was married and maintained a household through his beggary, and upon his death, Lazarillo is pressed into marriage to the widow. Thus the sequence of adventures nd misfortunes continues.