Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

or any other man, when we commend those 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 Ogilbys 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 of 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 cry’d-up English poet for their model, adore bim, 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 transla 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 a 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 (Sir P, Lely), 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 a 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; 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, grave, and 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 a part 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 differir:g 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 tenour; 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 the band-gallop, and his verse runs upon carpet-ground. He avoids, like the other, all synalæphas, or cutting-off one vowel when it comes before another, in the following word. But to return to Virgil, though he is smooth where smoothness is required, yet he is so far from affecting it, that he seems rather to disdain it; frequently makes use of synalæphas, and concludes his sense in the middle of his verse. He is every where above conceits of epigrammatic wit, and gross hyperboles : he maintains majesty in the midst of plainness; he shines, but glares not; and is stately without ambition, which is the vice of Lucan. I drew my definition of poetical wit from my particular consideration of him:

for propriety of thoughts and words are only to be found in him; and, where they are proper, they will be delightful. Pleasure follows of necessity, as the effect does the cause; and therefore is not to be put into the definition. This exact propriety of Virgil I particularly regarded, as a great part of his character; but must confess, to my shame, that I have not been able to translate any part of him so well, as to make him appear wholly like himself: for, where the original is close, no version can reach it in the same compass. Hannibal Caro's, in the Italian, is the nearest, the most poetical, and the most sonorous, of any translation of the Æneid: yet, though he takes the advantage of blank verse, he commonly allows two lines for one of Virgil, and does not always hit his sense. Tasso tells us, in his letters, that Sperone Speroni, a great Italian wit, who was his contemporary, observed of Virgil and Tully, that the Latin orator endeavoured to imitate the copiousness of Homer, the Greek poet; and that the Latin poet made it his business to reach the conciseness of Demosthenes, the Greek orator. Virgil therefore, being so very sparing of his words, and leaving so much to be imagined by the reader, can never be translated as he ought, in any modern toogue. To make him copious, is to alter his character; and to translate him line for line is impossible, because the Latin is naturally a more succinct language than either the Italian, Spanish, French, or even than the English, which, by reason of its monosyllables, is far the most compendious of them. Virgil is much the closest of any Roman poet, and the Latin hexameter has more feet than the English heroic.

Besides all this, an author has the choice of his own thoughts and words, which a translator has not ; he is confined by the sense of the inventor to those expressions which are the nearest to it: so that Virgil, studying brevity, and having the command of his own lauguage, could bring those words into a narrow compass, which a translator cannot render without circumlocutions. In short, they who have called him the torture of grammarians, might also have called him the plague of translators; for he seems to have studied not to be translated. I own, that, endeavouring to turn his Nisus and Euryalus as close as I was able, I have performed that episode too literally; that, giving more scope to Mezentius and Lausus, that version, which has more of the majesty of Virgil, has less of his conciseness; and all that I can promise for myself, is only, that I have done both better than Ogilby, and perhaps as well as Caro. By considering him so carefully as I did before my attempt, I have made some faint resemblance of himn; and, had I taken more time, might possibly have succeeded better ; but never so well as to have satisfied myself.

He who excels all other poets iri his own language, were it possible to do him right, must appear above them in our tongue, which, as my lord Roscommon justly observes, approaches nearest to the Roman in its majesty: nearest indeed, but with a vast interval betwixt them. There is an inimitable grace in Virgil's words, and in them principally consists that beauty, which gives so inexpressible a pleasure to him who best liderstands their force. This diction of his (I must once again say) is neve to be copied; and, since it cannot, he will appear but lame in the best translation. The turns of his verse, his breakings, his propriety, his numbers, and his gravity, I have as far imitated, as the poverty of our language, and the hastiness of my performance, would allow. I may seem sometimes to have varied from his sense : but I think the greatest variations may be fairly deduced from him; and where I leave his commentators, it may be, I understand him better: at least I writ without consulting them in many places. But two particular lines in Mezentius and Lausus I cannot so easily excuse: they are indeed remotely allied to Virgil's sense; but they are too like the tenderness of Ovid, and were printed before I had considered them enough to alter them. The first of them I have forgotten, and cannot easily retrieve, because the copy is at the press; the second is this:

Ver

When Lausus died, I was already slain.

This appears pretty enough at first sight; but I am convinced, for many reasons, that the expression is too bold; that Virgil would not have said it, though Ovid would. The reader may pardon it, if he please, for the freeness of the confession; and instead of that, and the former, admit these two lines, which are more according to the author:

Nor ask I life, nor fought with that design;

As I had us'd my fortune, use thou thine. Having with mứch ado got clear of Virgil, I have in the next place to consider the genius of Lucretius, whom I have translated more happily in those parts of him which I undertook. If he was not of the

best age of Roman poetry, he was at least of that which preceded it; and he himself refined it to that degree of perfection, both in the language and the thoughts, that he left an easy task to Virgil; who as he succeeded him in time, so he copied his excellencies: for the method of the Georgics is plainly derived from him. Lucretius had chosen a subject naturally crabbed; he therefore adorned it with poetical descriptions, and precepts of morality, in the beginning and ending of his books, which you see Virgil has imitated with great success in those four books, which in my opinion are more perfect in their kind than even his divine Æneid. The turn of his verses he has likewise followed in those places which Lucretius has most laboured; and some of his very lines he has transplanted into bis own works, without much variation. If I am not mistaken, the distinguishing character of Lucretius (1 mean of his soul and genius) is a certain kind of noble pride, and positive assertion of his opinions. He is every where confident of his own reason, and assuming an absolute command, not only over his vulgar readers, but even his patron Memmius. For he is always bidding him attend, as if he had the rod over him; and using a magisterial authority while he instructs him. From bis time to ours, I know none so like him, as our poet and philosopher of Malmesbury. This is that perpetual dictatorship, which is exercised by Lucretius; who, though often in the wrong, yet seems to deal bonâ fide with his reader, and tells him nothing but what he thinks: in which plain sincerity, I believe, he differs from our Hobbes, who could not but be convinced, or at least doubt of some eternal truths, which he has opposed. But for Lucretius, he seems to disdain all manner of replies, and is so confident of his cause, that he is before-hand with his antagonists; urging for them whatever he imagined they could say, and leaving them, as he supposes, without an objection for the future: all this too with so much scorn and indignation, as if he were assured of the triumph before he entered into the lists. From this sublime and daring genius of his it must of necessity come to pass, that his thoughts must be masculine, full of argumentation, and that sufficiently warm. From the same fiery temper proceeds the loftiness of his expressions, and the perpetual torrent of his verse, where the barrenness of his subject does not too much constrain the quickness of his fancy. For there is no doubt to be made, but that he could have been every where as poetical as he is in his descriptions, and in the moral part of his philosophy, if he had not aimed more to instruct, in his system of nature, than to delight. But he was bent upon making Memmius a materialist, and teaching him to defy an invisible power. In short, he was so much an atheist, that he forgot sometimes to be a poet. These are the considerations which I had of that anthor before I attempted to translate some parts of him. And accordingly I laid by my natural diffidence and scepticism for a while, to take up that dogmatical way of his, which, as I said, is so much his character, as to make him that individual poet. As for his opinions concerning the mortality of the soul, they are so absurd, that I cannot, if I would, believe them. I think a future state demonstrable even by natural arguments; at least, to take away rewards and punishments is only a pleasing prospect to a man, who resolves before-band not to live murally. But, on the other side, the thought of being nothing after death is a burthen insupportable to a virtuous man, even though a heathen. We naturally aim at happiness, and cannot bear to have it contined to the shortness of our present being, especially when we consider, that virtue is generally unbappy in this world, and vice fortunate. So that it is hope of futurity alone that makes this life tolerable, in expectation of a better. Who would not commit all the excesses, to which he is prompted by his natural inclinations, if he may do them with security while he is alive, and be incapable of punish. ment after he is dead? If he be cunning and secret enough to avoid the laws, and there is no band of morality to restrain him: for fame and reputation are weak ties: many men have not the least sense of them: powerful men are only awed by them, as they conduce to their interest, and that not always, when a passion is predominant: and no man will be contained within the bounds of daty, when he may safely transgress them. These are my thoughts abstractedly, and without entering into the notions of our Christian faith, which is the proper business of divines.

But there are other arguments in this poem (which I have turned into English) not belonging to the mortality of the soul, which are strong enough to a reasonable man, to make him less in love with life, and consequently in less apprehensions of death. Such as are the natural satiety proceeding from a perpetual enjoyment of the same things; the inconveniencies of old age, which make him incapable of corporeal pleasures; the decay of understanding and memory, which render him contemptible, and useless to others. These, and many other reasons, so pathetically urged, so beau. tifully expressed, so adorned with examples, and so admirably raised by the prosopopeia of Nature,

who is brought in speaking to her children, with so much authority and vigour, deserve the pains I have taken with them, which I hope bave not been unsuccessful, or unworthy of my author. At least I must take the liberty to own, that I was pleased with my own endeavours, which but rarely happens to me; and that I am not dissatisfied upon the review of any thing I have done in this author.

I have not here designed to rob the ingenious and learned translator of Lucretius of any part of that commendation which he has so justly acquired by the whole author, whose fragments only fall to my portion. What I have now performed is no more than I intended above twenty years ago. The ways of our translations are very different. He follows him more closely than I have done, which became an interpreter of the whole poem : I take more liberty, because it best suited with my design, which was to make him as pleasing as I could. He had been too voluminous had he used my method in so long a work; and I had certainly taken his, had I made it my business to translate the whole. The preference then is justly his; and I join with Mr. Evelyn in the confession of it, with this additional advantage to him, that his reputation is already established in this poet, mine is to make its fortune in the world. If I have been any where obscure in following our common author, or if Lucretius himself is to be eondemned, I refer myself to his excellent annotations, which I have often read, and always with some new pleasure.

My preface begins already to swell upon me, and looks as if I were afraid of my reader, by so tedious a bespeaking of him: and yet I have Horace and Theocritus upon my hands; but the Greek gentleman shall quickly be dispatched, because I have more business with the Roman.

That which distinguishes Theocritus from all other poets, both Greek and Latin, and which raises him even above Virgil in his Eclogues, is the inimitable tenderness of his passions, and the natural expression of them in words so becoming a pastoral. A simplicity shines through all he writes. He shows his art and learning, by disguising both. His shepherds never rise above their country education in their complaints of love. There is the same difference betwixt him and Virgil, as there is between Tasso's Aminta and the Pastor Fido of Guarini. Virgil's shepherds are too well read in the philosophy of Epicurus and Plato; and Guarini's seem to have been bred in courts. But Theocritus and Tasso have taken theirs from cottages and plains. It was said of Tasso, in relation to his similitudes, that he never departed from the woods, that is, all his comparisons were taken from the country. The same may be said of our Theocritus. He is softer than Ovid; he touches the passions more delicately, and performs all this out of his own fund, without diving into the arts and sciences for a supply. Even his Doric dialect has an incomparable sweetness in its clownishness, like a fair shepherdess in her country russet, talking in a Yorkshire tone. This was impossible for Virgil to im tate ; because the severity of the Roman language denied him that advantage. Spenser bas endeavoured it in his Shepherd's Kalendar; but neither will it succeed in English: for which reason I have forebore to attempt it. For Theocritus writ to Sicilians, who spoke that dialect; and I direct this part of my translations to our ladies, who neither understand, nor will take pleasure in such homely expressions. I proceed to Horace.

Take him in parts, and he is chiefly to be considered in his three different talents, as he was a critic, a satirist, and a writer of odes. His morals are uniform, and run through all of them : for, let his Dutch commentators say what they will, his philosophy was Epicurean; and he made use of gods and Providence only to serve a turn in poetry. But since neither his criticism, which are the most instructive of any that are written in this art, nor his satires, wbich are incomparably beyond Juvenal's, if to laugh and rally is to be preferred to railing and declaiming, are no part of my present undertaking, 1 confine myself wholly to bis odes. These are also of several sorts: some of them are panegyrical, others moral, the rest jovial, or (if I may so call them) Bacchanalian. As difficult as he makes it, and as indeed it is, to imitate Pindar, yet, in his most elevated flights, and in the sudden changes of his subject, with almost imperceptible connections, that Theban poet is his master. But Horace is of the more bounded fancy, and confines himself strictly to one sort of verse, or stanza, in every ode. That which will distinguish his style from all other poets, is the elegance of his words, and the numerousness of his verse. There is nothing so delicately turned in all the Roman language. There appears in every part of his diction, or (to speak English) in all his expressions, a kind of noble and bold purity. His words are chosen with as much exactness as Virgil's; but there seems to be a greater spirit in them. There is a secret happiness attends his choice, which in Petronius is called curiosa felicitas, and which I suppose he had from the feliciter audere,

of Horace himself. But the most distinguishing part of all his character seems to me to be his briskness, his jollity, and his good-humour: and those I have chiefly endeavoured to copy. His other excellencies, I confess, are above my imitation. One ode, which infinitely pleased me in the reading, I have attempted to translate in Pindaric verse; it is that which is inscribed to the present earl of Rochester, to whom I have particular obligations, which this small testimony of my gratitude can never pay. It is his darling in the Latin, and I have taken some pains to make it my masterpiece in English: for which reason I took this kind of verse, which allows more latitude than any other. Every one knows it was introduced into our language, in this age, by the happy genius of Mr. Cowley. The seeming easiness of it has made it spread: but it has not been considered enough to be so well cultivated. It languishes in almost every hand but his, and some very few, whom (to keep the rest in countenance) I do not name. He, indeed, has brought it as near perfection as was possible in so short a time. But, if I may be allowed to speak my mind modestly, and without injury to his sacred ashes, somewhat of the purity of the English, somewhat of more equal thoughts, somewhat of sweetness in the numbers, in one word, somewhat of a finer turn, and more lyrical verse, is yet wanting. As for the sout of it, which consists in the warmth and vigour of fancy, the masterly figures, and the copiousness of imagination, he has excelled all others in this kind. Yet, if the kind itself be capable of more perfection, though rather in the ornamental parts of than the essential, what rules of morality or respect have I broken, in naming the defects, that they may hereafter be amended? Imitation is a nice point, and there are few poets who deserve to be models in all they write. Milton's Paradise Lost is admirable ; but am I therefore bound to maintain, that there are no flats against his elevations, when it is evident he creeps along sometimes for above an hundred lines together? Cannot I admire the height of his invention, and the strength of his expression, without defending his antiquated words, and the perpetual harshness of their sound? It is as much commendation as a man can bear, to own him excellent; all beyond it is idolatry. Since Pindar was the prince of lyric poets, let me have leave to say, that in imitating him, our numbers should, for the most part, be lyrical. For variety, or rather where the majesty of thought requires it, they may be stretched to the English heroic of five feet, and to the French Alexandrine of six. But the ear must preside, and direct the judgment to the choice of numbers. Without the nicety of this, the harmony of Pindarie verse can never be complete: the cadency of one line must be a rule to that of the next; and the sound of the former must slide gently into that which follows; without leaping from one extreme into another. It must be done like the shadowings of a picture, which fall by degrees into a darker colour. I shall be glad, if I have so explained myself as to be understood; but if I have not, quod nequeo dicere & sentio tantùm must be my excuse. There remains much more to be said on this subject; but, to avoid envy, I will be silent. What I have said is the general opinion of the best judges, and in a manner bas been forced from me, by seeing a noble sort of poetry so happily restored by one man, and so grossly copied by almost all the rest. A musical ear, and a great genius, if another. Mr. Cowley could arise in another age, may bring it to perfection. In the mean time,

Fungar vice cotis, acutum

Reddere quæ ferrum valet, exsors ipsa secandi. To conclude, I am sensible that I have written this too hastily and too loosely: I fear I have been tedious, and, which is worse, it comes out from the first draught, and uncorrected. This, I grant, is no excuse: for it may be reasonably urged, why did be not write with more leisure, or, if he had it not, (wbich was certainly my case) why did he attempt to write on so nice a subject? The objection is unanswerable; but, in part of recompense, let me assure the reader, that, in hasty productions, he is sure to meet with an author's present sense, which cooler thoughts would possibly have disguised. There is undoubtedly more of spirit, though not of judgment, in these incorrect Essays, and consequently, though my hazard be the greater, yet the reader's pleasure is not the less.

JOHN DRYDEN,

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »