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OVID'S EPISTLE S.
PREFACE CONCERNING OVID'S EPISTLES.
The life of Ovid being already written in our language before the translation of his Metamorphoses, I will not presume so far upon myself, to think I can add any thing to Mr. Sandys' undertaking. The English reader may there be satisfied, that he flourished in the reign of Augustus Cæsar; that he was extracted from an ancient family of Roman knights; that he was born to the inheritance of a splendid fortune; that he was designed to the study of the law, and had made considerable progress in it, before he quitted that profession, for this of poetry, to which he was more naturally formed. The cause of his banishment is unknown; because he was himself unwilling further to provoke the emperor, by ascribing it to any other reason than what was pretended by Augustus, which was, the lasciviousness of his Elegies, and his Art of Love. It is true, they are not to be excused in the severity of manners, as being able to corrupt a larger empire, if there were any, than that of Rome : yet this may be said in behalf of Ovid, that no man has ever treated the passion of love with so much delicacy of thought and of expression, or searched into the nature of it more philosophically than he. And the emperor, who condemned hirn, had as little reason as another man to punish that fault with so much severity, if at least he were the author of a certain epigram, which is ascribed to him, relating to the first civil war betwixt himself and Marc Anthony the triumvir, which is more fulsome than any passage I have met with in our poet. To pass by the naked familiarity of his expressions to Horace, which are cited in that author's life, I need only mention one notorious act of his, in taking Livia to his bed, when shs was not only married, but with child by her husband then living. But deeds, it seems, may be justified by arbitrary power, when words are questioned in a poet. There is another guess of the grammarians, as far from truth as the first from reason: they will have him banished for some favours which, they say, he received from Julia the daughter of Augustus, whom they think he celebrates under the name of Corinna in his Elegies : but he who will observe the verses, which are made to that mistress, may gather from the whole contexture of them, that Corinna was not a woman of the highest quality. If Julia were then married to Agrippa, why should our poet' make his petition to Isis, for her safe delivery, and afterwards condole her miscarriage; which, for aught he knew, might be by her own husband? Or, indeed, how durst he be so bold to make the least discovery of such a crime, which was no less than capital, especially committed against a person of Agrippa's rank? Or, if it were before ber marriage, he would sure have been more discreet, than to have published an accident which must have been fatal to them both. But what most confirms me against this opinion, is, that Ovid himself complains, that the true person of Corinna was found out by the fame of his verses to her: which, if it had been Julia, he durst not have owned; and, besides, an immediate punishment must have followed. He seems himself more truly to have touched at the cause of his exile in those obscure verses;
Cur aliquid vidi, cur noxia lumina feci ? &c. Namely, that he had either seen, or was conscious to somewhat, which had procured him his disgrace. But neither am I satisfied, that this was the incest of the emperor with his own daughter: fur Augustus was of a nature too vindictive, to have contented himself with so small a revenge, or so unsafe to himself, as that of simple banishment; but would certainly have secured his crimes from public notice, by the death of him who was witness to them. Neither have historians given us any sight into such an action of this emperor: nor would he (the greatest politician of his time), in all probability, have inanaged his crimes with so little secrecy, as not to shun the observation of any man. It seems more probable, that Ovid was either the confident of some other passion, or that he had stumbled by some inadvertency upon the privacies of Livia, and seen her in a bath: for the words
Sine veste Dianam
agree better with Livia, who had the fame of chastity, than with either of the Julias, who were both noted of incontinency. The first verses, which were made by him in his youth, and recited publicly according to the custom, were, as he himself assures us, to Corinna: his banishment happened not till the age of fifty: from which it may be deduced, with probability enough, that the love of Corinna did not occasion it: nay, he tells us plainly, that his offence was that of errour only, not of wickedness; and in the same paper of verses also, that the cause was notoriously known at Rome, though it be left so obscure to after-ages.
But to leave conjectures on a subject so uncertain, and to write somewhat more authentic of this poet: that he frequented the court of Augustus, and was well received in it, is most undoubted: all his poems bear the character of a court, and appear to be written, as the French call it, cavalierement : add to this, that the titles of many of his Elegies, and more of his letters in his banishment, are ad. dressed to persons well known to us, even at this distance, to have been considerable in that court.
Nor was his acquaintance less with the famous poets of his age, than with the noble men and ladies. He tells you himself, in a particular account of his own life, that Macer, Horace, Tibullus, Propertius, and many others of them, were his familiar friends, and that some of them communicated their writings to him; but that he had only seen Virgil.
If the imitation of nature be the business of a poet, I know no author, who can justly be compared with ours, especially in the description of the passions. And, to prove this, I shall need no other judges than the generality of his readers: for, all passions being inborn with us, we are almost equally judges, when we are concerned in the representation of them. Now I will appeal to any man, who has read this poet, whether he finds not the natural emotion of the same passion in himself, which the poet describes in his feigned persons ? His thoughts, which are the pictures and results of those pas. sions, are generally such as naturally arise from those disorderly motions of our spirits. Yet, not to speak too partiality in his behalf, I will confess, that the copiousness of his wit was such, that he often writ too pointedly for his subject, and made his persons speak more eloquently than the violence of their passion would admit: so that he is frequently witty out of season; leaving the imitation of nature, and the cooler dictates of his judgment, for the false applause of fancy. Yet he seems to have found out this imperfection in his riper age: for why else should he complain, that his Metamorphoses was left unfinished ? Nothing sure can be added to the wit of that poem, or of the rest : but many things ought to have been retrenched; which, I suppose, would have been the business of his age, if his misfortunes had not come too fast upon him. But take him uncorrected, as he is transmitted to us, and it must be acknowledged, in spite of his Dutch friends the commentators, even of Julias Scaliger himself, that Seneca's censure will stand good against him ;
Nescivit quod bene cessit relinquere ;
he never knew how to give over, when he had done well; but, continually varying the same sense an hundred ways, and taking up in another place what he had more than enough inculcated before, he sometimes cloys his readers instead of satisfying them; and gives occasion to his translators, who dare not cover him, to blush at the nakedness of their father. This then is the allay of Ovid's writings, which is sufficiently recompensed by his other excellencies: nay, this very fault is not without its beauties; for the most severe censure cannot but be pleased with the prodigality of his wit, though at the same time he could have wished that the master of it had been a better manager. Every thing which he does becomes him; and if sometimes he appears too gay, yet there is a secret gracefulness of youth, which accompanies his writings, though the staidness and sobriety of age be wanting. In the most material part, which is the conduct, it is certain that he seldoin has miscarried : for if his Elegies be compared with those of Tibullus and Propertius, his contemporaries, it will be found, that those poets seldom designed before they writ: and though the language of Tibullus be more polished, and the learning of Propertius, especially in his fourth book, more set out to ostentation; yet their cominon practice was to look no further before them than the next line; whence it will inevitably follow, that they can drive to no certain point, but ramble from one subject to another, and conclude with somewhat which is not of a piece with their beginning:
Pupureus latè qui splendeat unus & alter
as Horace says: though the verses are golden, they are but patched into the garment. But our poet has always the goal in his eye, which directs him in his race; some beautiful design, which he first establishes, and then contrives the means which will naturally conduct him to his end. This will be evident to judicious readers in his Epistles, of which somewhat, at least in general, will be expected.
The title of them in our late editions is Epistolæ Heroidum, The Letters of the Heroines. But Heinsius has judged more truly, that the inscription of our author was barely, Epistles; which he concludes from his cited verses, where Ovid asserts this work as his own invention, and not borrowed from the Greeks, whom (as the masters of their learning) the Romans usually did imitate. But it appears not from their writings, that any of the Grecians ever touched upon this way, which our poet therefore justly has vindicated to himself. I quarrel not at the word Heroidum, because it is used by Ovid in his Art of Love :
Jupiter ad veteres supplex Heroidas ibat.
But, sure, he could not be guilty of such an oversight, to call his work by the name of Heroines, when there are divers men, or heroes, as, namely, Paris, Leander, and Acontius, joined in it. Except Şa. binus, who writ some answers to Ovid's Letters,
(Quam celer è toto rediit meus orbe Sabinus)
I remember not any of the Romans, wbo have treated on this subject; save only Propertius, and that but once, in his Epistle of Arethusa to Lycotas, which is written so near the style of Ovid, that it seems to be but an imitation; and therefore ought not to defraud our poet of the glory of his invention,
Concerning the Epistles, I shall content myself to observe these few particulars; first, that they are generally granted to be the most perfect pieces of Ovid, and that the style of them is tenderly passionate and courtly; two properties well agreeing with the persons, which were heroines and lovers. Yet, where the characters were lower, as in Oenone and Hero, he has kept close to nature, in drawing his images after a country life; though perhaps he has Romanized his Grecian dames too much, and made them speak, sometimes, as if they had been born in the city of Rome, and under the empire of Angustus. There seems to be no great variety in the particular subjects which he has chosen ; most of the Epistles being written from ladies who were forsaken by their lovers: which is the reason that many of the same thoughts come back upon us in divers letters: but of the general character of women, which is modesty, he has taken a most becoming care; for his amorous expressions go no further than virtue may allow, and therefore may be read, as he intended them, by matrons without a blush.
Thus much concerning the poet: it remains that I should say somewhat of poetical translations in general, and give my opinion, with submission to better judgments, which way of version seems to be
the most proper.
All translation, I suppose, may be reduced to these three heads.
First, that of metaphrase, or turning an author word by word, and line by line, from one language into another. Thus, or near this manner, was Horace's Art of Poetry translated by Ben Johnson. The second way is that of paraphrase, or translation with latitude, where the author is kept in view by the translator, so as never to be lost, but his words are not so strictly followed as his sense; and that too is admitted to be amplified, but not altered. Such is Mr. Waller's translation of Virgil's fourth Æneid. The third way is that of imitation, where the translator (if now he has not lost that name) assumes the liberty, not only to vary from the words and sense, but to forsake them both as he sees occasion; and, taking only soine general hints from the original, to run division on the groundwork, as he pleases. Such is Mr. Cowley's practice in turning two odes of Pindar, and one of Horace, into English.
Concerning the first of these methods, our inaster Horace has given us this caution;
Nec verbum verbo curabis reddere fidus
Nor word for word too faithfully translate,
as the earl of Roscommon has excellently rendered it. Too faithfully is, indeed, pedantically: it is a faith like that which proceeds from superstition, blind and zealous. Take it in the expression of sir Jobo Denham to sir Richard Fanshaw, on his version of the Pastor Fido;
That servile path thou nobly dost decline,
It is almost impossible to translate verbally, and well, at the same time : for the Latin (a most severe and compendious language) often expresses that in one word, which the barbarity, or the narrowness, of modern tongues cannot supply in more. It is frequent also, that the conceit is couched in some expression, which will be lost in English,
Atque iidem venti vela fidemque ferent.
What poet of our nation is so happy as to express this thought literally in English, and to strike wit, or almost sense, out of it?
In short, the verbal copier is encumbered with so many difficulties at once, that he can never disentangle himself from all. He is to consider at the same time the thought of his author and his words, and to find out the counterpart to each in another language: and, besides this, he is to confine himself to the compass of numbers, and the slavery of rhyme. It is much like dancing on ropes with fettered legs: a man can shun a fall, by using caution ; but the gracefulness of motion is not to be expected : and when we have said the best of it, it is but a foolish task; for no sober man would put himself into a danger for the applause of escaping without breaking his neck. We see Ben Jonson could not avoid obscurity in his literal translation of Horace, attempted in the same compass of lines: nay Horace himself could scarce have done it to a Greek poet:
Brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio:
either perspicuity or gracefulness will frequently be wanting. Horace has, indeed, avoided both these rocks in his translation of the three first lines of Homer's Odyssey, which he has contracted into
Dic mihi, Musa, virum, captæ post tempora Troja,
Muse, speak the man, who since the siege of Troy,
But then the sufferings of Ulysses, which are a considerable part of that sentence, are omitted :
The consideration of these difficulties, in a servile, literal translation, not long since made two of our famous wits, sir John Denham and Mr. Cowley, to contrive another way of turning authors into our tongue, called, by the latter of them, imitation. As they were friends, I suppose they communicated their thoughts on this subject to each other; and, therefore, their reasons for it are little different; though the practice of one is much more moderate. I take imitation of an author, in their sense, to be an endeavour of a later poet to write like one who has written before him on the same subject: that is, not to translate his words, or to be confined to his sense ; but only to set him as a pattern, and to write, as he supposes that author would have done, had he lived in our age, and in our country. Yet I dare not say that either of them have carried this libertine way of rendering authors (as Mr. Cowley calls it) so far as my definition reaches. For in the Pindaric Odes, the customs and ceremonies of ancient Greece are still preserved. But I know not what mischief may arise hereafter from the example of such an innovation, when writers of unequal parts to him shall imitate so bold an undertaking. To add and to diminish what we please, which is the way avowed by him, ought only to be granted to Mr. Cowley, and that too only in his translation of Pindar; because he alone was able to make bim amends, by giving him better of his own, wheneverbe refused his author's thoughts. Pindar is generally known to be a dark writer, to want connection, (I mean as to our understanding) to soar out of sight, and leave his reader at a gaze. So wild and ungovernable a poet cannot be translated literally; his genius is too strong to bear a chain, and Samson like he shakes it off. A genius so elevated and unconfined as Mr. Cowley's was but necessary to make Pindar speak English, and that was to be performed by no other way than imitation. But if Virgil, or Ovid, or any regular intelligible authors, 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 alınost 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 in. quisitive 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 advantageous way for a translator to show himself, but the greatest wrong which can be done to the memory and reputation of the dead. Sir John Denhamn (who advised more liberty than he took himself) gives his reason for his innovation, in his admirable preface before the translation of the second Æneid. “ Poetry is of so subtle 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 bolds 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 bis 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 bis, 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) literally 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 bis 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 unbandsome dress, and rob it of its native lustre. There is, thercfore, 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 bis 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 lincaments, 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