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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. &c. By J. H. Wiffen. Svo. London and Edinburgh.
MUCH didactic prose and poetry has been written upon the subject of translation: the substance of which may be comP ised 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-
"I had sent me a fish in a great dish by the archbish—
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 their 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.
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) Ber Jonson, the translator of his Art of Poetry, did not; and wel 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 cupidus quam propter amorem.'
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 quæ dedit,'
'But if she dances in the wind
And shakes her wings and will not stay,
recollecting always, that Horace is speaking of a recognized and severe deity? 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 Eneid, 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 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 æra 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 in-animate 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 popularity†) has observed upon this in his Amelia,' where Dr. Harrison comments upon Pope's leaving out the de in his version of
Διος δ' ετελείετο βέλη.
And though we do not venture to refine so much upon the force of Greek particles as to construe (with Dean Jackson) Tewes pa, The Trojans, Heaven help them! we do attach very considerable importance to such monosyllables; and no less to the family of pure, però, &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 last Century. London. 1825.
As an instance of this, we might mention his quiet sneer at Glover's poem of Leonidas (then in the zenith of popularity) in his Journey from this World to the next. The first spirit with whom I entered into discourse was the famous Leonidas of Sparta. I acquainted him with the honours which had been done him by a celebrated poet of our nation, to which he answered, that he was very much obliged to him.'