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be thus used, it is no longer to be called their work, when neither the thoughts nor words are drawn from the original, but instead of them there is something new produced, which is almost the creation of another hand. By this way, it is true, somewhat that is excellent
may be invented, perhaps more excellent than the first design, though Virgil must be still excepted, when that perhaps takes place : yet he who is inquisitive to know an author's thoughts, will be disappointed in his expectation ; and it is not always that a man will be contented to have a present made him, when he expects the
payment of a debt. To state it fairly, imitation of an author is the most advantageouis way
for a translator to shew himself, but the greatest wrong which can be done to the memory and reputation of the dead. Sir John Denham, who advised more liberty than he took himself, gives this reason for his innovation, in his admirable preface before the translation of the second Æneid : Poetry is of so subtile a spirit, that in pouring out of one language into another, it will all evaporate ; and if a new spirit be not added in the transfusion, there will remain nothing but a caput mortuum.” I confess this argument holds good against a literal translation ; but who defends it? Imitation and verbal version are in my opinion the two extremes, which ought to be avoided ; and therefore when I have proposed the mean betwixt them, it will be seen how far his argument will reach.
No man is capable of translating poetry, who besides a genius to that art, is not a master both of his author's language, and of his own. Nor must we understand the language only of the poet, but his particular turn of thoughts and expression, which are the characters that distinguish, and as it were individuate, him from all other writers. When we are come thus far, it is time to look into ourselves; to conform our genius to his, to give his thought either the same turn, if our tongue will bear it, or if not, to vary but the dress, not to alter or destroy the substance. The like care must be taken of the more outward ornaments, the words ; when they appear, which is but seldom, lite
rally graceful, it were an injury to the author that they should be changed. But since every language is so full of its own proprieties, that what is beautiful in one, is often barbarous, nay sometimes nonsense in another, it would be unreasonable to limit a translator to the narrow compass of his author's words ; it is enough if he choose out some expression which does not vitiate the sense. I suppose he may stretch his chain to such a latitude; but by innovation of thoughts, methinks he breaks it. By this means the spirit of an author may be transfused, and yet not lost : and thus it is plain, that the reason alleged by Sir John Denham has no farther force than to expression : for thought, if it be translated truly, cannot be lost in another language; but the words that convey it to our apprehension, which are the image and ornament of that thought, may be so ill chosen, as to make it appear in an unhandsome dress, and rob it of its native lustre. There is therefore a liberty to be allowed for the expression ; neither is it necessary that words and lines should be confined to the measure of their original. The sense of an author, generally speaking, is to be sacred and inviolable. If the fancy of Ovid be luxuriant, it is his character to be so ; and if I retrench it, he is no longer Ovid. It will be replied, that he receives advantage by this lopping of his superfluous branches; but I rejoin, that a translator has no such right. When a painter copies from the life, I suppose he has no privilege to alter features, and lineaments, under pretence that his picture will look better : perhaps the face which he has drawn would be more exact, if the eyes or nose were altered; but it is his business to make it resemble the original. In two cases only there may a seeming difficulty arise, that is, if the thought be notoriously trivial or dishonest; but the same answer will serve for both,—that then they ought not to be translated :
Desperes tractata nitescere posse, relinquas. Thus I have ventured to give my opinion on this subject against the authority of two great men, but I
hope without offence to either of their memories; for I both loved them living, and reverence them now they are dead. But if after what I have urged, it be thought by better judges that the praise of a translation consists in adding new beauties to the piece, thereby to recompense the loss which it sustains by change of language, I shall be willing to be taught better, and to recant. In the mean time it seems to me, that the true reason why we have so few versions which are tolerable, is not from the too close pursuing of the author's sense, but because there are so few who have all the talents which are requisite for translation ; and that there is so little praise and so small encouragement for so considerable a part of learning.
PREFACE TO POETICAL MISCEL
LANIES. Translation is a kind of drawing after the life; where every one will acknowledge there is a double sort of likeness, a good one and a bad. It is one thing to draw the outlines true, the features like, the proportions exact, the colouring itself perhaps tolerable ; and another thing to make all these graceful, by the posture, the shadowings, and chiefly by the spirit which animates the whole. I cannot without some indignation look on an ill copy of an excellent original: much less can I behold with patience Virgil
, Homer, and some others, whose beauties I have been endeavouring all my life to imitate, so abused, as I may say, to their faces by a botching interpreter. What English readers, unacquainted with Greek or Latin, will believe me or any other man, when we commend these authors, and confess we derive all that is pardonable in us from their fountains, if they take those to be the same poets, whom our Oglebies have translated ? But I dare assure them, that a good poet is no more like himself in a dull translation, than his carcase would be to his living body. There are many who understand Greek and Latin, and yet are ignorant of their mother tongue. The proprieties and delicacies of the English
are known to few: it is impossible even for a good wit to understand and practise them without the help of a liberal education, long reading, and digesting of those few good authors we have amongst us, the knowledge of men and manners, the freedom of habitudes and conversation with the best company
of both sexes ;
and in short, without wearing off the rust which he contracted, while he was laying in a stock of learning. Thus difficult it is to understand the purity of English, and critically, to discern not only good writers from bad, and a proper style from a corrupt, but also to distinguish that which is pure in a good author, from that which is vicious and corrupt in him. And for want of all these requisites, or the greatest part of them, most of our ingenious young men take up some cried up English poet for their model ; adore him, and imitate him, as they think, without knowing wherein he is defective, where he is boyish and trifling, wherein either his thoughts are improper to his subject, or his expressions unworthy of his thoughts, or the turn of both is unharmonious.
Thus it appears necessary that a man should be a nice critic in his mother tongue, before he attempts to translate in a foreign language. Neither is it sufficient that he be able to judge of words and style, but he must be a master of them too: he must perfectly understand his author's tongue, and absolutely command his own: so that to be a thorough translator, he must be a thorough poet. Neither is it enough, to give his author's sense, in good English, in poetical expressions, and in musical numbers ;•for, though all these are exceeding difficult to perform, there yet remains an harder task ; and it is a secret of which few translators have sufficiently thought. I have already hinted a word or two concerning it ; that is, the maintaining the character of an author, which distinguishes him from all others, and makes him appear that individual poet whom you would interpret. For example, not only the thoughts, but the style and versification of Virgil and Ovid, are very different : yet I see, even in our best poets, who have translated some parts of them,
that they have confounded their several talents ; and by endeavouring only at the sweetness and harmony of numbers, have made them both so much alike, that if I did not know the originals, I should never be able to judge by the copies, which was Virgil, and which was Ovid. It was objected against a late noble painter, that he drew many graceful pictures, but few of them were like. And this happened to him, because he always studied himself, more than those who sat to him. In such translators I can easily distinguish the hand which performed the work, but I cannot distinguish their poet from another. Suppose two authors are equally sweet; yet there is as great distinction to be made in sweetness, as in that of sugar, and that of honey. I can make the difference more plain, by giving you, if it be worth knowing, my own method of proceeding, in my translations out of four several poets in this volume; Virgil, Theocritus, Lucretius, and Horace. In each of these, before I undertook them, I considered the genius and distinguishing character of my author. I looked on Virgil, as a succinct and grave majestic writer : one who weighed not only every thought, but every word and syllable ; who was still aiming to crowd his sense into as narrow a compass as possibly he could ; for which reason he is so very figurative, that he requires, I
may almost say, a grammar apart to construe him. His verse is every where sounding the very thing in your ears, whose sense it bears : yet the numbers are perpetually varied, to increase the delight of the reader; so that the same sounds are never repeated twice together. On the contrary, Ovid and Claudian, though they write in styles different from each other, yet have each of them but one sort of music in their verses. All the versification and little variety of Claudian is included within the compass of four or five lines, and then he begins again in the same tenor ; perpetually closing his sense at the end of a verse, and that verse commonly which they call golden, or two substantives and two adjectives, with a verb betwixt them to keep the peace. Ovid, with all his sweetness, has as little variety of numbers and sound as he: he is always as it were upon