In the introduction to his last work, The Travails of Persiles and Sigismunda (1617), Cervantes writes what’s often considered to be one of literature’s most beautiful farewell messages. In it, the creator of Don Quixote (1605) discusses his ailing health, and recalls encountering a young admirer on the road to a nearby inn. The two ride together and chat for a while and ultimately part ways, giving Cervantes occasion to reflect poignantly on his life and works. The anecdote, though relatively full of good cheer and fellow feeling on its face, is tinged with a lingering melancholy that makes the whole encounter seem weightier in retrospect. For a modern reader separated from Cervantes by multiple centuries, it’s a moment of rare intimacy with the past.