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Art. I.—Jerusalem Delivered; an Epic Poem, in Twenty Cantos; translated into English Spenserian Verse from the Italian of Tasso, $c. fyc. By J. H. Wiffen. 8vo. London and Edinburgh.
rUCH didactic prose and poetry has been written upon the subject of translation: the substance of which may be composed in an exhortation to translate rather by equivalents than by
literal version of the author's words. If we try the merit of this precept, however, by its fruits, we shall find that, though its adoption may have produced good poetry,'it has not often produced the thing required. With the exception of— 'Mittitur in disco mihi piscis ab archiepisco— —Po non ponatur quia potus non mihi datur.' 'I had sent me a fish in a great dish by the archbish— —Hop is not here for he gave me no beer' we do not know of above one good translation executed upon this system in more than a century from the time in which it was most popular. On the other hand, we have many, among the best in the language, and not despicable even as poetry, for which we are indebted to that severe style of version, which was in fashion before the doctrine of equivalents was broached. Among these, many of Ben Jonson's essays rank foremost, and Sandys' Translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses may be deemed a happy specimen of the school.
Yet it must be allowed, that the free is the noble style of translation; that the only versions in our language, which rank as poems, are boldly executed; and that even the closest copyist must at times resort to equivalents, if he would give the real meaning of his original. This, however, is a daring and hazardous course; full of shoals so irregularly scattered, and often seen in such false lights, that there are few who have a sufficient perception of. dieir dangers, or dexterity to avoid them. The most obvious of these dangers are modern and vulgar associations; of which we have spoken at large in a former Number: but there is another, which we do not remember to have seen laid down in any chart of criticism: this is, the resorting to some equivalent, which appears to convey the exact sense of the author, without observing the effect of that equivalent upon other parts of the text, under translation; a risk almost as perilous in its ultimate, though not Vol. xxxiv. No. Lxvii. A in in Its immediate, consequences, as the other, to which we have alluded.
Dryden may be considered as the first popular attempter in English of the system of free translation, as it is supposed to be recommended by Horace; we say supposed to be, because we do not think that his words admit the wide inferences which have ■been drawn from them; and (what is much more important) Ben Jonson, the translator of his Art of Poetry, did not; and well justified in his own practice his different opinion of Horace's meaning. Even Dryden, however, had as strict theoretical notions of the duties of a translator as he could entertain who would follow his author—
'Non ita certandi cnpidus quam propter amoreiti.'
'A translator (says he) is to be like his author: it is not his business to excel him.' This was his theory; but though he may occasionally catch the graces of his author, (besides exhibiting many rare qualities of his own,) can he be said to resemble the poet whom he translates, when he renders Horace's
'si celeres quatit
Pennas, resigno quae dedit,' by
'But if she dances in the wind And shakes her wings and will not stay,
I puff the prostitute away,' recollecting always, that Horace is speaking of a recognized and severe deity 1 or, when designating the priests of Cybele as clumsy clergymen, does he convey to us Juvenal's picture of those painted, mitred, and effeminate fanatics? Does he not rather conjure up a vision of portly gentlemen in black worsted stockings, thick shoes, and shovel hats? And yet how full is every translation by him, even his noble iEneid, of faults such as these, produced partly by the ambition of excelling his original, and partly by his indulging in the vicious use of equivalents!
We have already recorded our opinion of Pope's Iliad; but even he has been seduced into violations of the sense of his author by the same cause, by Dryden's example, and by the artificial tone of an age that would have delighted to call the House of Commons the Senate House. He was also, like Dryden, hurried away, and into some wider deviations, by a genius too original and imaginative to suffer him to become a copyist. He seems to have meditated his work in the spirit in which a painter meditates a picture, anxious rather to improve, than exactly to imitate, nature;—whereas, according to our ideas, and according to those professed by Dryden, he should have commenced his task with the feelings of one who is to copy and not to compose:
—But —But the genius of Pope led him to composition; and we have to lament that his genius should have been of so distinct a character from his whom he professed to follow. It is observed fairly enough in a little work lately published,* that he is successful at least as a moral, if not as a descriptive, translator, and that the Achilles and Diomed of Pope may be truly said to be the Achilles and Diomed of Homer. Nor, though he is not so faithful a painter of manners as of passions, do we object to his softening features which would have disgusted the feelings of a modern age. Manners are variable, and, as we have before observed on this very subject, indicate something very different in one sera from what we should infer from them in another. But this, though it will excuse him for refining, will not excuse him for exaggerating, and it will yet less excuse him for the alteration of pictures of inanimate nature, which is invariable. The Iliad is not like the letter which so much excited Col. Bath's admiration in Amelia; it is not'all writ with great dignity of expression and emphasis of judgment:' it is, as every scholar knows, full of familiar images; of pictures of still life, quite as much distinguished by lightness as by force of touch; and of shadings of sentiment as delicately discriminated as those of the descriptions themselves. So many of these last have been pointed out by Mr. Coleridge in his lectures, by Mr. Uvedale Price in his book on the Picturesque, and others, that we willingly abstain from adducing new passages in proof of what we have been saying. We will, however, add, that in the neglect of these more evanescent colourings of Homer's pencil, and in the omission of his particles, Pope often not only takes from the delicacy of the expression, but injures the sense of his author. Fielding (who was never misled by present popularityt) lias observed upon this in his ' Amelia,' where Dr. Harrison comments upon Pope's leaving out the is in his version of
'Aioe £' Ctekiuto /3«Xn.* And though we do not venture to refine so much upon the force of Greek particles as to construe (with Dean Jackson) Tgcosj pet, 'The Trojans, Heaven help them!' we do attach very considerable importance to such monosyllables; and no less to the family of piire.pero, &c. in Italian.
Another fault, which will not be found inconsistent with our general admiration of him, may be charged upon Pope, in the
* Thoughts and Recollections by One of the Inst Century. London. 1825.
+ As an instance of this, we might mention his quiet sneer at Glover's poein of Leanidas (then in the zenith of popularity) in his Journey from this World to the neit. 'The first spirit with whom I entered into discourse was the famous Leonidas of Sparta. I acqunlnted him with the honours which had been done him by a celebrated poet of our nation, to which he answered, that he teas wen/ much obliged to him.'
A 2 stricter
stricter inquiry which we are now instituting into his merits and demerits as a translator. While he occasionally departs from the sense of Homer, he is guilty of some violations of English idiom, which escape the notice of the general reader amid the splendour of his versification, as false notes often pass undetected in a grand crash of music. There is much to be said in palliation of this in a faithful translation, where the poet is seduced into a deviation from the rules of his own language by an anxiety to conform more closely to the sense of his original; but instances of this fault are not wanting in Pope, where he has no such apology to offer for it. Take, as an example, what in the translation begins at the l67th line of book xxii.
'We greet not here, as man conversing man, Met at an oak or journeying o'er a plain.' How much better is Cowper's translation of this passage! We need not remind the classical reader that Hector is soliloquizing, while he stands awaiting the approach of Achilles; under which circumstances Cowper's interpretation of his sentiments is, as we believe, the right one, and at all events avoids the blunders and bad English of Pope.
'It is no time from oak or hollow rock With him to parley, as a nymph and swain,— A nymph and swain—soft parley mutual hold, &c» Another and a worse defect in Pope remains to be noticed, which (as far as we know) has hitherto escaped censure, and which yet strikes us as the more blameable, because it is a departure from the principles which he had prescribed to himself. Nothing is more remarkable in Homer than the varieties of his style, and their uniform appropriateness to his subject. To illustrate this by the old simile of a river, (and we know no better,) his stream of verse is as various as that, which now pours in a cataract, now runs ' dark, deep, and dangerous,' and now winds through pastures and festive gardens, by cabins or by palaces. Pope's verse, on the contrary, is like the Thames in sight of his own windows. He rolls along in sunshine, a magnificent volume of water which is usually
'Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.' Cesarotti sins very much in the way of Pope, and is yet more full of glare and glitter; but Ugo Foscolo, with a rare union of imagination, scholarship, and judgment, has avoided these defects, and has caught much of the true Homeric diversity of style in the fragments of an Italian Iliad which he has published. Thus in one of his specimens, the swearing to the conditions of the duel between Paris and Menelaus, he has closely observed the
solemn, archaic, and monotonous narrative of his original; and in the introduction of Helen to Paris by Venus, which follows the combat, has as dexterously imitated the voluptuous style of colouring with which Homer has painted the interview. He has moreover succeeded in catching the general tone of Homer's style as characterized by simplicity and majesty, a deviation from which has been always objected to Pope, and was so even at the time when his translation was most popular. This Foscolo has accomplished in a great degree by the use of the versi sciolti, a measure perhaps as analogous to that of his original as any that could be found in any living language; unless, indeed, the German must be excepted. His predecessor Cesarotti did not turn this measure to the same good account although he had also the good taste to adopt it; for, though much depends on a right choice of weapons, yet more depends upon dexterity in the use of -them. .Cowper again, though his version cannot sustain a general comparison with the fragments of Foscolo, has succeeded admirably in this particular. His work, in spite of its unpopularity, is unquestionably a valuable acquisition to English literature: and, indeed, we have little doubt that it would have obtained abundant favour, had he only condescended to bestow some of that labour, which he has employed to so much purpose on other parts of his task, in combing-out the tangles of his too intricate versification. The renewal of our intercourse with Italy has revived the public attention with regard to the great poets of that Peninsula, and one result of this renewed interest has been the production of many attempts to translate them. We do not think it foreign to the purpose of this essay to give some account of these attempts, but in discussing them, we shall entirely abstain from all comments on the originals, (which would lead us into much too wide a field,) except in so far as any mention of them is incidental to criticism upon the translations. And we are the more bound to keep to this resolution, as in order to estimate the necessity of these works, we must once more digress, and, going back in our literary history, say a few words of our best and earlier Italian versions in the golden time of Queen Elizabeth.
In this reign were produced translations of those marvellous works, the Furioso and the Gerusalemme: the first by Harrington and the second by Fairfax. The first (though it has very considerable merit, and, among others, that of being written in sterling English) is very inferior to the second, and, moreover, is an abridgment of Ariosto's great work. One Italian canto, for instance, containing 150 stanzas, is comprized in 90 of Harrington's, and (what is worse) the poetry is always the part left out, as if it were a superfluous ornament of the narrative. When we say this, however, we
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