Page images
PDF
EPUB

besides signs of tenses and cases, and other barbarities on which our speech is built by the faults of our forefathers. The Romans founded theirs upon the Greek and the Greeks, we know, were labouring many hundred years upon their language, before they brought it to perfection. They rejected all those signs, and cut off as many articles as they could spare; comprehending in one word what we are constrained to express in two; which is one reason why we cannot write so concisely as they have done. The word pater, for example, signifies not only a father, but your father, my father, his or her father, all included in a word.

This inconvenience is common to all modern tongues; and this alone constrains us to employ more words than the ancients needed. But, having before observed, that Virgil endeavours to be short, and at the same time elegant, I pursue the excellence, and forsake the brevity: for there he is like ambergris, a rich perfume, but of so close and glutinous a body, that it must be opened with inferior scents of musk or civet, or the sweetness will not be drawn out into another language.

On the whole matter, I thought fit to steer betwixt the two extremes of paraphrase and lit eral translation; to keep as near my author as I could, without losing all his graces, the most eminent of which are in the beauty of his words; and those words, I must add, are always figurative. Such of these as would retain their elegance in our tongue, I have endeavoured to graff on it; but most of them are of necessity to be lost, because they will not shine in any but their own. Virgil has sometimes two of them in a line: but the scantiness of our heroic verse is not capable of receiving more than one; and that too must expiate for many others which have none. Such is the difference of the languages, or such my want of skill in choosing words. Yet I may presume to say, and I hope with as much reason as the French translator, that, taking all the materials of this divine author, I have endeavoured to make Virgil speak such English as he would himself have spoken, if he had been born in England, and in this present age. I acknowledge, with Ségrais, that I have not succeeded in this attempt according to my desire: yet I shall not be wholly without praise, if in some sort I may be allowed to have copied the clearness, the purity, the easiness, and the magnificence, of his style. But I shall have occasion to speak further on this subject before I end the Preface.

When I mentioned the Pindaric line, I should have added, that I take another license in my verses: for I frequently make use of

triplet rhymes, and for the same reason, because they bound the sense. And therefore I gen

erally join these two licenses together, and make the last verse of the triplet a Pindaric:* for, besides the majesty which it gives, it confines the sense within the barriers of three lines, which would languish if it were lengenthed into four. Spenser is my example for both these privileges of English verses; and Chapman has followed him in his translation of Homer. Mr. Cowley has given into them after both; and all succeeding writers after him. I regard them now as the Magna Charta of heroic poetry, and am too much an Englishman to lose what my ancestors have gained for me. Let the French and Italians value themselves on their regularity; strength and elevation are our standard. I said before, and I repeat it, that the affected purity of the French has unsinewed their heroic verse. The language of an epic poem is almost wholly figurative: yet they are so fearful of a metaphor, that no example of Virgil can encourage them to be bold with safety. Sure they might warm themselves by that sprightly blaze, without approaching it so close as to singe their wings; they may come as near it as their master. Not that I would discourage that purity of diction in which he excels all other poets. But he knows how far to extend his franchises, and advances to the verge, without venturing a foot beyond it. On the other side, without being injurious to the memory of our English Pindar, I will presume to say, that his metaphors are sometimes too violent, and his language is not always pure. But, at the same time, I must excuse him; for, through the iniquity of the times, he was forced to travel, at an age when, instead of learning foreign languages, he should have studied the beauties of his mother-tongue, which, like all other speeches, is to be cultivated early, or we shall never write it with any kind of elegance.† Thus, by gaining abroad, he lost at home; like the painter in the "Arcadia," who, going to see a skirmish, had his arms lopped off, and returned, says Sir Philip Sidney, well instructed how to draw a battle, but without a hand to perform his work.

There is another thing in which I have presumed to deviate from him and Spenser. They both make hemistichs, (or half verses,) breaking

Now more commonly called an Alexandrine.

Pope had perhaps this passage in his memory, when he composed the famous triplet descriptive of Dry

den's versification:

Waller was smooth; but Dryden taught to join The varying verse, the full resounding line, The long majestic march, and energy divine.

He alludes to Cowley, who was forced abroad by the ill fate of the royal party in the civil wars.

off in the middle of a line. I confess there are not many such in the "Fairy Queen;" and even those few might be occasioned by his unhappy choice of so long a stanza. Mr. Cowley had found out, that no kind of staff is proper for a heroic poem, as being all too lyrical: yet, though he wrote in couplets, where rhyme is freer from constraint, he frequently affects half verses; of which we find not one in Homer, and I think not in any of the Greek poets, or the Latin, excepting only Virgil: and there is no question but he thought he had Virgil's authority for that license. But, I am confident, our poet never meant to leave him, or any other, such a precedent: and I ground my opinion on these two reasons: first, we find no example of a hemistich in any of his Pastorals or Georgics: for he had given the last finishing strokes to both these poems: but his Æneïs he left so incorrect, at least so short of that perfection at which he aimed, that we know how hard a sentence he passed upon it: and, in the second place, I reasonably presume, that he intended to have filled up all those hemistichs, because in one of them we find the sense imperfect:

I am also bound to tell your lordship, in my own defence, that, from the beginning of the First Georgic to the end of the last neid, I found the difficulty of translation growing on me in every succeeding book: for Virgil, above all poets, had a stock, which I may call almost inexhaustible, of figurative, elegant, and sounding words. I, who inherit but a small portion of his genius, and write in a language so much inferior to the Latin, have found it very painful to vary phrases, when the same sense returns upon me. Even he himself, whether out of necessity or choice, has often expressed the same thing in the same words, and often repeated two or three whole verses, which he had used before. Words are not so easily coined as money; and yet we see that the credit, not only of banks, but of exchequers, cracks, when little comes in, and much goes out. Virgil called upon me in every line for some new word: and I paid so long, that

Quem tibi jam Trojâ–

which some foolish grammarian has ended for I was almost bankrupt; so that the latter end him with a half line of nonsense :

must needs be more burdensome than the beginning or the middle; and, consequently, the twelfth Eneid cost me double the time of the first and second. What had become of me, if Virgil had taxed me with another book? I had certainly been reduced to pay the public in hammered money, for want of milled; that is, in the same old words which I had used before: and the receivers must have been forced to have taken any thing, where there was so little to be had.*

[ocr errors]

peperit fumante Creusa:

for Ascanius must have been born some years before the burning of that city; which I need not prove. On the other side, we find also, that he himself filled up one line in the Sixth Eneid, the enthusiasm seizing him, while he was read ing to Augustus:

Misenum Æolidem, quo non præstantior alter
Ære ciere viros

to which he added, in that transport, Martemque accendere cantu: and never was any line more nobly finished; for the reasons which I have given in the Book of Painting. On these considerations I have shunned hemistichs; not being willing to imitate Virgil to a fault, like Alexander's courtiers, who affected to hold their necks awry, because he could not help it.* I am confident your lordship is by this time of my opinion, and that you will look on those half lines hereafter, as the imperfect products of a hasty Muse: like the frogs and serpents in the Nile; part of them kindled into life, and part a lump of unformed unanimated mud.

I am sensible that many of my whole verses are as imperfect as those halves, for want of time to digest them better: but give me leave to make the excuse of Boccace, who, when he was

upbraided that some of his novels had not the spirit of the rest, returned this answer, that Charlemagne, who made the paladins, was never able to raise an army of them. The leaders may be heroes, but the multitude must consist of common men.

Our author has, however, availed himself of this license in his earlier poetry.

Besides this difficulty, (with which I have struggled, and made a shift to pass it over,) there is one remaining, which is insuperable to all translators. We are bound to our author's sense, though with the latitudes already mentioned; for I think it not so sacred, as that one iota must not be added or diminished, on pain of an anathema. But slaves we are, and labour on another man's plantation; we dress the vineyard, but the wine is the owner's: if the soil be sometimes barren, then we are sure of being scourged: if it be fruitful, and our care succeeds, we are not thanked; for the proud reader will only say, the poor drudge has done his duty. But this is nothing to what follows; for, being obliged to make his sense intelligible,

• The confusion occasioned by the rules of the mint, then recently adopted, created great inconvenience and distress to individuals. It is often mentioned in the correspondence between Tonson and Dryden.

we are forced to untune our own verses, that we may give his meaning to the reader. He, who invents, is master of his thoughts and words: he can turn and vary them as he pleases, till he renders them harmonious; but the wretched translator has no such privilege: for, being tied to the thoughts, he must make what music he can in the expression; and, for this reason, it cannot always be so sweet as that of the original. There is a beauty of sound, as Ségrais has observed, in some Latin words, which is wholly lost in any modern language. He instances in that mollis amaracus, on which Venus lays Cupid, in the First Æneid. If I should translate it sweet-marjoram, as the word signifies, the reader would think I had mistaken Virgil: for those village words, as I may call them, give us a mean idea of the thing: but the sound of the Latin is so much more pleasing, by the just mixture of the vowels with the consonants, that it raises our fancies to conceive somewhat more noble than a common herb, and to spread roses under him, and strew lilies over him; a bed not unworthy the grandson of the goddess.

If I cannot copy his harmonious numbers, how shall I imitate his noble flights, where his thoughts and words are equally sublime? Quem quisquis studet æmulari cæratis ope Dædalea Nititur pennis, vitreo daturus Nomina ponto.

What modern language, or what poet, can express the majestic beauty of this one verse, amongst a thousand others?

Aude, hospes, contemnere opes, et te quoque dignum Finge deo.

For my part, I am lost in the admiration of it I contemn the world when I think on it, and myself when I translate it.*

Lay by Virgil, I beseech your lordship, and all my better sort of judges, when you take up my version; and it will appear a passable beauty when the original muse is absent. But, like Spenser's false Florimel made of snow, it melts and vanishes when the true one comes in sight. I will not excuse, but justify myself, for one pretended crime, with which I am liable to be charged by false critics, not only in this translation, but in many of my original poems-that I Latinise too much. It is true, that, when I find

Nevertheless our author, long before undertaking the translation of Virgil, had given a noble paraphrase of these lines in the Hind's address to the Panther:

This mean retreat did mighty Pan contain;
Be emulous of him, and pomp disdain,
And dare not to debase your soul to gain.

an English word significant and sounding, I neither borrow from the Latin, nor any other language; but, when I want at home, I must seek abroad.

If sounding words are not of our growth and manufacture, who shall hinder me to import them from a foreign country? I carry not out the treasure of the nation, which is never to return; but, what I bring from Italy, I spend in England: here it remains, and here it circulates; for, if the coin be good, it will pass from one hand to another. I trade both with the living and the dead, for the enrichment of our native language. We have enough in England to supply our necessity; but if we will have things of magnificence and splendour, we must get them by commerce. Poetry requires ornament; and that is not to be had from our old Teuton monosyllables: therefore, if I find any elegant word in a classic author, I propose it to be naturalized by using it myself; and, if the public approves of it, the bill passes. But every man cannot distinguish between pedantry and poetry: every man, therefore, is not fit to innovate. Upon the whole matter, a poet must first be certain that the word he would introduce is beautiful in the Latin, and is to consider, in the next place, whether it will agree with the English idiom: after this, he ought to take the opinion of judicious friends, such as are learned in both languages: and, lastly, since no man is infallible, let him use this license very sparingly; for, if too many foreign words are poured in upon us, it looks as if they were designed not to assist the natives, but to conquer them.

I am now drawing towards a conclusion, and suspect your lordship is very glad of it. had in this undertaking. The late Earl of LauBut permit me first to own what helps I have

derdale* sent me over his new translation of the

neis, which he had ended before I engaged in the same design. Neither did I then intend it: but, some proposals being afterwards made me by my bookseller, I desired his lordship's leave that I might accept them, which he freely granted; and I have his letter yet to show for that permission. He resolved to have printed his work, (which he might have done two years before I could publish mine,) and had performed it if death had not prevented him. But, having his manuscript in my hands, I consulted it as often as I doubted of my author's sense; for no man understood Virgil better than that learned nobleman. His friends, I hear, have

Richard, fourth Earl of Lauderdale, nephew of that respectable minister the Duke of Lauderdale. "He had a fine genius for poetry," says Sir Robert Douglass, in his Peerage of Scotland; "witness his elegant translation of Virgil."

yet another and more correct copy of that translation by them, which, had they pleased to have given the public, the judges must have been convinced that I have not flattered him. Besides this help, which was not inconsiderable, Mr. Congreve has done me the favour to review the neïs, and compare my version with the original. I shall never be ashamed to own, that this excellent young man has showed me many faults, which I have endeavoured to correct. It is true, he might have easily found more, and then my translation had been more perfect.

Two other worthy friends of mine, who desire to have their names concealed, seeing me straitened in my time, took pity on me, and gave me the "Life of Virgil," the two prefaces to the "Pastorals" and the "Georgics," and all the arguments in prose to the whole translation; which, perhaps, has caused a report, that the two first poems are not mine.* If it had been true, that I had taken their verses for my own, I might have gloried in their aid, and, like Terhave fathered the opinion that Scipio and Lælius joined with me. But the same style being continued through the whole, and the same laws of versification observed, are proofs sufficient, that this is one man's work and your lordship is too well acquainted with my manner, to doubt, that any part of it is another's.

ence,

That your lordship may see I was in earnest when I promised to hasten to an end, I will not give the reasons why I writ not always in the proper terms of navigation, land-service, or in the cant of any profession. I will only say, that Virgil has avoided those proprieties, because he writ not to mariners, soldiers, astronomers, gardeners, peasants, &c. but to all in general, and in particular to men and ladies of the first quality, who have been better bred than to be too nicely knowing in the terms. In such cases, it is enough for a poet to write so plainly, that he may be understood by his readers; to avoid impropriety, and not affect to be thought learned in all things.

I have omitted the four preliminary lines of the First Æneïd, because I think them inferior to any four others in the whole poem, and consequently believe they are not Virgil's There is too great a gap betwixt the adjective

* Dr. Knightly Chetwood and Mr. Addison. The former wrote the "Life of Virgil," and the "Preface to the Pastorals;" the latter, the "Essay on the Georgics." See Introductory notes on these pieces. + Ille ego, qui quondam gracili modulatus avena Carmen, et, egressus silvis, vicina coegi Ut quamvis avido parerent arva colono, Gratum opus agricolis; at nunc horrentia Martis...

The characteristic modesty of our author, as well as the rugged and turgid structure of these lines,

[blocks in formation]

Arma, virumque cano, Trojæ qui primus ab oris. scarce a word without an r, and the vowels, for the greater part, sonorous. The prefacer began with Ille ego, which he was constrained to patch up in the fourth line with at nunc, to make the sense cohere; and, if both those words are not notorious botches, I am much deceived, though the French translator thinks otherwise. For my own part, I am rather of the opinion, that they were added by Tucca and Varius,

than retrenched.

I know it may be answered, by such as think Virgil the author of the four lines, that he asserts his title to the Eneïs in the beginning of this work, as he did to the two former in the last lines of the Fourth Georgic. I will not reply otherwise to this, than by desiring them to compare these four lines with the four others, which we know are his, because no poet but he alone could write them. If they cannot distinguish creeping from flying, let them lay down Virgil, and take up Ovid, de Ponto, in his stead. My master needed not the assistance of that preliminary poet to prove his claim. His own majestic mien discovers him to be the It was a king, amidst a thousand courtiers. superfluous office; and, therefore, I would not set those verses in the front of Virgil, but have rejected them* to my own preface.

[blocks in formation]

ter.

the prefacer gave me no occasion to write betThis is a just apology in this place; but I have done great wrong to Virgil in the whole translation: want of time, the inferiority of our language, the inconvenience of rhyme, and all the other excuses I have made, may alleviate my fault, but cannot justify the boldness of my undertaking. What avails it me to acknowledge freely, that I have not been able to do him right in any line? for even my own confession makes against me; and it will always be returned upon me, "Why then did you attempt it?" To which no other answer can be made, than that I have done him less injury than any of his former libellers.

What they called his picture, had been drawn at length so many times, by the daubers of almost all nations, and still so unlike him, that I snatched up the pencil with disdain; being satisfied beforehand, that I could make some small resemblance of him, though I must be content with a worse likeness. A Sixth Pastoral, a Pharmaceutria, a single Orpheus, and some other features, have been exactly taken: but those holyday-authors writ for pleasure; and only showed us what they could have done, if they would have taken pains to perform the whole.

Be pleased, my lord, to accept, with your wonted goodness, this unworthy present which I make you. I have taken off one trouble from you, of defending it, by acknowledging its imperfections; and, though some part of them are covered in the verse, (as Erichthonius rode always in a chariot, to hide his lameness,) such of them as cannot be concealed, you will please to connive at, though, in the strictness of your judgment, you cannot pardon. If Homer was allowed to nod sometimes in so long a work, it will be no wonder if I often fall asleep. You took my "Aureng-Zebe" into your protection, with all his faults: and I hope here cannot be so many, because I translate an author who gives me such examples of correctness. What my jury may be, I know not; but it is good for a criminal to plead before a favourable judge: if I had said partial, would your lordship have forgiven me? or will you give me leave to acquaint the world, that I have many times been obliged to your bounty since the Revolution?

Though I never was reduced to beg a charity, nor ever had the impudence to ask one, either of your lordship, or your noble kinsman the Earl of Dorset,* much less of any other; yet, when I least expected it, you have both remembered me. So inherent it is in your family not to forget an old servant. It looks rather like ingratitude on my part, that, where I have been so often obliged, I have appeared so seldom to return my thanks, and where I was also so sure of being well received. Somewhat of laziness was in the case, and somewhat too of modesty, but nothing of disrespect or of unthankfulness. I will not say that your lordship has encouraged me to this presumption, lest, if my labours meet with no success in public, 1 may expose your judgment to be censured. As for my own enemies, I shall never think them worth an answer; and, if your lordship has any, they will not dare to arraign you for want of knowledge in this art, till they can produce somewhat better of their own, than your "Essay on Poetry." It was on this consideration, that I have drawn out my preface to so great a length. Had I not addressed to a poet and a critic of the first magnitude, I had myself been taxed for want of judgment, and shamed my patron for want of understanding. But neither will you, my lord, so soon be tired as any other, because the discourse is on your art; neither will the learned reader think it tedious, because it is Ad Clerum.† At least, when he begins to be weary, the church-doors are open. That I may pursue the allegory with a short prayer after a long sermon

May you live happily and long, for the service of your country, the encouragement of good letters, and the ornament of poetry; which cannot be wished more earnestly by any man, than by

Your Lordship's Most humble,

Most obliged, and
Most obedient servant,
JOHN DRYDEN

Their mothers were half sisters, being both daughters of Lionel Cranfield, Earl of Middlesex. + Concio ad Clerum, a sermon preached before a learned body.

« EelmineJätka »