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Sir GEORGE LYTTELTON, Bart.
ONE OF THE
LORDS COMMISSIONERS OF THE TREASURY.
ENSURE is fo feldom foftened by apologies, that perhaps it may be useless for me to declare my conscioufnefs of inability to do justice to the most perfect of poets, in the following tranflation. When I first entered upon this work, I fometimes imagined, that I heard the voice of Virgil addreffing me with the humanity of his
Quo moriture ruis? majoraque viribus audes?
for indeed nothing but my affection for the author could have engaged me in fo arduous an undertaking.
Whoever confiders the degree of delicacy and correctness to which the Eclogues of Virgil are polished; together with the eafe and wonderful harmony of his numbers; will be convinced of the extreme difficulty of transfufing into another VOL. I. tongue,
tongue, beauties of fo refined and fubtle a nature. It requires no fmall command of language, to be able to carry on Paftoral Dialogues, without finking into vulgar idioms, to unite fimplicity with grace, and to preferve familiarity without flatnefs. A ftyle too highly elevated would be naufeously unnatural, and one too profaic and plebeian, would be infipid and unaffecting. And to keep a juft mean, is perhaps as difficult in writing as in life.
There are few images and fentiments in the Eclogues of Virgil, but what are drawn from the Idylliums of Theocritus: in whom there is a rural, romantic wildness of thought, heightened by the Doric dialect; with fuch lively pictures of the paffions, and of fimple unadorned nature, as are infinitely pleafing to fuch lovers and judges of true poetry as yourself. Theocritus is indeed the great ftore-house of paftoral defcription; and every fucceeding painter of rural beauty (except THOMSON in his Seafons,) hath copied his images from him, without ever looking abroad upon the face of nature themselves. And thus a fet of hereditary objects has been continued from one poet to another, which have been often made use of without any propriety either as to age or climate.
But Virgil never borrowed an idea from his Sicilian mafter, without beautifying and heightening it with the luftre of his language, And perhaps
haps it may be observed in general, that if the Romans ever excelled their Grecian mafters in the graces of diction, which however was feldom the cafe, it was owing to their exerting all their powers, in drefling up thofe thoughts and ideas. that were ready found to their hands. The mind. can attend but to one object at once, with any vigour and intenfenefs: and if it be big and dilated with the conception and creation of new images, has scarce leifure to adorn them with that pomp of ftudied expreffion, which the writer that coolly copies them, can bestow upon them.
Indeed of all authors, either ancient or modern, Virgil feemeth to be the most perfect in his style; I mean in the poems he lived to finish. There is a profufion of the most daring metaphors and most glowing figures, there is a majefty and magnificence of diction throughout the Georgics, that notwithstanding the marvellous harmony and grandeur of the Greek versification, is fcarcely excelled by Homer himself. Our author's terms and epithets are chofen with fuch propriety, elegance and expreffiveness, that, as Mr. Addifon finely observes, We receive more ftrong and lively ideas of things from his words, than we could have done from the objects themfelves: and find our imaginations more affected by his defcriptions, than they would have been by the very fight of what he describes. We may juftly therefore apply to him. what Aristotle thought fo high a commendation of b 2 Homer:
Homer: that he found out LIVING WORDS. If the arrows which are impatient to deftroy, and the fpears that thirst to drink blood, are so deservedly admired in the Iliad, Virgil doubtlefs merits equal praife, for giving life and feeling, love and hatred, hope and fear, wonder and ambition, to plants and to trees, and to the very earth itself: and for exalting his favourite infects, by endowing them with reafon, paffions, arts, and civil government. To ufe Ariftotle's expreffion, Every thing in this poem bath manners, and all the creation is animated.
But alas! fince this is the cafe, what muft become of a tranflator of the Georgics, writing in a language not half fo lofty, fo founding, or fo elegant as the Latin, incapable of admitting many * of its best and boldest figures, and heavily fettered with the Gothic fhackles of rhyme! Is not this endeavouring to imitate a palace of porphyry with flints and bricks? A poem whofe excellence peculiarly confifts in the graces of diction is far more difficult to be tranflated, than a work where fentiment, or paffion, or imagination, is chiefly difplayed. So that I fear we can receive but a faint notion of the beauty of the Georgics from any English verfion of them. An engraving may indeed faithfully represent the subject, but can give no idea of the colouring of one of Titian's landfcapes. Befides, the meannefs of the terms of husbandry is concealed and loft in a dead language,