Page images

perhaps has an illufion to the Lupercal courfe. It also fignifies a fervice of dishes at table. It is very extraordinary, that a man fhould fet up for a Tranflator, with fo little acquaintance in the language, as not to be able to distinguish whether a word, in a certain period, fignifies a race, a fervice of dishes, or a mode of conduct. In a piece entitled Guillaume de Vadè, and attributed to Mr. de Voltaire, there is a blunder of the fame kind. Polonius orders his daughter not to confide in the promises of Hamlet, who, being heir to the crown, cannot have liberty of choice in marriage, like a private perfon. He muft not, fays the old statesman, carve for himself, as vulgar perfons do. The French author tranflates it, he muft not cut his own victuals; and runs on about morfels, as if Hamlet's dinner, not his marriage, had been the subject of debate. The tranflator knew not that the word carve is often used metaphorically in our language, for a perfon's framing or fashioning his lot or portion. We fay, the lover feeds on hope; the warrior thirsts for glory: would it be

[blocks in formation]



fair to tranflate, that the lover eats a morfel of hope, and the warrior defires to drink a draught of glory? If fuch tran@lations are allowed, the works of the most correct author be rendered ridiculous. It is apparent, that Mr. de Voltaire depended entirely on the affistance of a dictionary, to enable him to give the most faithful translation that can be, and the only faithful one, in the French language, of any author, ancient or modern.

It is neceffary to prefent to those readers, who do not understand French, the miserable mistakes and galimathias of this dictionary work. Brutus, in his foliloquy, meditating on what Caffius had been urging concerning Cæfar, thus expreffes his apprehenfion, that imperial power may change the conduct of

the man.


'Tis a common proof,

That lowlinefs is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the upmoft round,


He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, fcorning the base degrees
By which he did afcend. So Cæfar may.
Thus Mr. Voltaire tranflates it:

-On fait affez quelle eft l'ambition.

L'échelle des grandeurs à fes yeux fe présente;
Elle y monte en cachant fon front aux spectateurs ;
Et quand elle eft haut, alors elle se montre;
Alors jufques au ciel élevant ses regards,
D'un coup d'œil meprifant fa vanité dédaigne
Les premiers échelons qui firent fa grandeur.
C'est ce que peut Cefar.

"One knows what ambition is: the ladder of grandeurs presents itself to her; in going up fhe hides her face from the fpectators; when she is at the top then the fhews herfelf; then raifing her view to the heavens, with a scornful look her vanity difdains the steps of the ladder that made her greatness, This it is that Cæfar may do."

In the original, Lowliness is young ambition's ladder: the man who by feign'd humi

[blocks in formation]

lity and courtesy, has attained the power to which he aspired, turns his back on those humble means by which he afcended to it; the metaphor agreeing both to the man, who has gained the top of the ladder, or to him who has rifen to the fummit of power. In the tranflation, ambition afcends by steps of grandeurs, hiding her face from the spectators, when the is at the top, with a look or glance of her eye her vanity difdains the first fteps fhe took; which steps, observe, were grandeurs; fo the allegory is vanity and ambition difdaining grandeur; and the image prefented is a woman climbing up a ladder, which is not a very common object, but more so than Vanity's disdaining grandeurs.

I am forry the translator had not a better English dictionary, for on that, not on his own knowledge of our tongue, it is plain he depended. In another inftance it misleads him. After Portia had importuned Brutus, to communicate to her the fecret cause of his perturbation, he fays to her,



Portia, go in a while,

And, by and by, thy bofom fhall partake

The fecrets of my heart.

All my engagements I will conftrue to thee,
All the charactery of my fad brows.
Leave me with hafte,

The dictionary was confulted for the word conftrue; and thus, according to the ufual form, one may suppose it to have stood: To conftrue, to interpret. This not ferving the purpose, to interpret was next fought; there he finds, to interpret or to explain; again with indefatigable industry, excited by a defire to excel all tranflators and tranflations, he has recourfe to the article to explain; under this head he finds, to unfold or clear up; fo away goes the tranflator to clear up

the countenance of Brutus.

Va, mes fourcils froncés prennent un air plus doux. "Go;" fays he; "my frowning brow shall take a fofter air."

There are so many grofs blunders in this



« PreviousContinue »