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or idiomatic turns, which the same thought will very
often assume in different languages. The influence of climate, the habits of a people, and other causes, operate powerfully, and with dissimilar effects, in every country, on the manner of thinking of its inhabitants, and consequently on their manner of expression, just as they produce a variety in the character and degrees of their passions and feelings, and a difference in their views, political institutions, &c., in comparison with the inhabitants of other countries.
These peculiarities are not to be reduced to fixed rules, though their operating causes, in many individual instances, may be traced to some extent by the philosophic observer. “Custom is," at any rate, “the legislator of languages," as the adage goes,
and we must take custom as we find it. The consequence is, that by practice alone-and constant practice--can you obtain a positive knowledge of what is French and of what is not. Yet, with tolerable practice, joined to quickness of understanding, not only may you sometimes fairly conjecture, approximatively, for want of better means of information, whether an English expression, translated literally, is not either French at all or good French, but you may
also be able to turn it into that language yourself and not be very far from the mark. Dictionaries do not always give a whole phrase ; they are obliged by their restricted space, to confine themselves to giving only those ready-made phrases, those idioms, which are more current and differ more from the English. Much will depend upon your own ingenuity, as well as upon the positive knowledge which you may have already gained. I would, therefore, strongly urge upon you the necessity of acquiring as early as possible what I might call a “ French ear ; which is nothing else, at bottom, but the habit, applied to your study of the French language, of judging by analogy, and of bringing all your store of knowledge to bear successively upon each particular case under
your notice. But take care, withal, lest you should change, ever and anon, and without any reason, the peculiar turn of the phrases in your text, as you will often thereby deprive your translation altogether of the author's original character, which ought, on the contrary, to be infused into it.-Get at once into the meaning and spirit of the author, and, without allowing yourself to be fettered by the mere wording, endeavour to convey that spirit and that meaning entire into the minds of those who are to read you. A translator ought to be like a mirror that faithfully reflects the image presented to its surface. Therefore, I say, consider the idea, the spirit of the writer, first, and the words, the letter of the text, only afterwards. But should same words, and the same turn, as those used by your author, express his meaning just as well in French as they do in English, use them too, by all means; and never forget that a literal translation is the best
, if it is as strictly in accordance with the genius of the one language as of the other. Avoid, in short, both servility in the use of the very words of your original, and excess of freedom in the substitution of others : the just medium, the modus in rebus, in this respect, as in all others, must constantly be kept in view. Many a second-rate translation have I seen, in print, where the originality of the author, that kind of volatile essence, if I may so speak, had been allowed to escape and was completely gone, because the translator, for want of being able to manage some peculiar expressions, had substituted something of his own for them. Sometimes, the translators, though they were French, but because they had not had sufficient experience even in writing their own language, with which they were to all appearances but very imperfectly acquainted, ħad deviated from the literal translation of a particular expression in a manner which clearly showed that they did not know whether that literal translation was French or not. I just happen to remember
one trifling instance, but which may serve as an illustration. The translator of the History of Christopher Columbus, by Washington Irving, has rendered conscious of having greatly deserved” by, ayant la conscience des éminents services qu'il avait rendus. This is not, strictly speaking, a mistake, nor a very important matter, certainly: the rendering is correct enough ; but why not translate this literally (as done at page 26, note 16 of this work)? The French expression mériter beaucoup means preciselý étre digne de récompense par ses talents, par ses services, and corresponds, in fact, exactly to the English in the text. Why use a periphrasis instead of the proper expression ? Surely a shortcoming of this kind betrays some amount of igno
There are things which are untranslatable literally, and which, in order to be rendered in the spirit of the original, require the highest skill in the art of translating. On this point, I shall refer the more advanced of my readers to page 48, notes 6 and 7 of this work, among other places. Plays on words, puns, and the like, such as the one referred to, are often extremely difficult, and even unmanageable. The only thing to be done is, in many cases, to render them as near as we can by equivalents, and, sometimes, totally irrespective of the words in the text. Thus, e.g., in Shakspeare's Twelfth Night, Sir Andrew, exalting the power of his legs, says;
'Faith, I can cut a caper ;” to which Sir Toby replies, “ And I can cut the mutton to t.” Now, it so happens that the word 'caper,' in English, has two distinct meanings :
hence the pun. But in French there are two words, each expressing one of these two meanings. These two words are, entrechat (the dancing term), and câpre (the botanical term). The literal translation, therefore, is out of the question, and an equivalent pun must be sought for, if any can be found. We may, for instance, so translate :
Sir ANDRÉ. Je découpe à merveille un entrechat.
. TOBIE. Moi, je découpe fort bien une entre-côte. This rendering is, I believe, the nearest possible to the original. And yet, here, we are obliged to use a somewhat vulgar expression ; for découper' is rather so in the former sense (découper un entrechat). We generally say, battre (or passer-or faire) un entrechat, to cut a caper.'. After all
, this somewhat vulgar expression is not in bad keeping with the kind of pun itself.
This scrupulousness must be carried even to the smallest and apparently insignificant details, if we wish to be accounted faithful and skilled translators. Thus we should, also, adapt even common jokes to the ordinary language, habits, or local associationswhether of ideas, words, or sounds, of the people into whose language we translate ; we should, in short, have due regard to the minutest points of what is termed in French, couleur locale, 'local colouring. In the Merry Wives of Windsor, Bardolph, a vulgar fellow, blunders in this way: “Why, sir, for my part, I say, the gentleman had drunk himself out of his five sentences." which Evans says, “It is his five senses : fie, what the ignorance is !” All this we shall render :
"Pour ce qui est de moi, je dis que monsieur était tellement gris, qu'il en avait perdu les cinq essences.
-“ L'ignorant ! il veut dire les cinq sens.". Translating “sentences? by sentences would hardly have done. The question here, is to know what, in a similar circumstance, would be the most likely, because the most natural, blunder which an ignorant French person would make. The French word sentences (pronounced like the singular, as if there were no s) does not resemble much, in sound, the word sens (the final s must be pronounced here), as, in English, sentences sounds pretty nearly like 'senses. For this reason, therefore, has the French word essences been substituted, in the translation, for 'sentences, merely on account of the above-mentioned similarity in sound, which it was necessary to observe, though it is not the translation of the English word, but because it answers more to the spirit of
Remember, besides, that a translation is not good which, in a characteristic dialogue, does not render a familiar, or even a vulgar expression, by the corresponding one or by an equivalent; by, in
short, another expression just as familiar or as vulgar. The difficulty is, of course, to give one neither more nor less so, and it is necessary to have read books on all sorts of subjects (I mean, good books, as may well be supposed), or to have seen much of a foreign country, in order to be acquainted with expressions used by different classes of people—the lower as well as the more polite. But this must be done, or our translation will be inferior in an important respect, namely the delineation of character. In short, always adapt your style to the subject; the one must ever rise or descend with the other in an exact ratio.
Now, with reference to proverbs. I will suppose the casewhich frequently happens--where an English proverb has no equivalent in French. Yet you are to translate it, as a proverb, in such a way as to at least give it in French the shape of one,-you are, in fact, to make a proverb yourself, to a certain extent, and so far as the words are concerned. In such a predicament, you have only to observe what the general forms of proverbs are, in French. These forms are pretty nearly similar, after all, in almost every language; and reading, as well as observing carefully, will soon make you familiar with them, whilst your own taste and judgment will point to you which form among them all is the best adapted to any particular case. You will have, first, always to adopt that brief, general, and dogmatic way of presenting the idea, which is one of the peculiarities of proverbs. You may also, sometimes, but sparingly however, follow the system of alliteration (and whether such a habit is good or bad in itself, is another question) so frequently met with in proverbs, in nearly all languages. Ex.:-'Birds of a feather flock together,' and the French corresponding proverb, 'Qui se ressemble s'assemble. In Spanish, likewise, 'Quien bien ata, bien desata,' which corresponds to 'Safe bind, safe find. In Italian, 'Amor e signoria non voglion compagnia,' which means, ‘Love and lordship like not fellowship.' In German, Bist Du schuldig, sey geduldig, which corresponds to 'He that cannot pay, let him pray ; ' &c. &c. Observe, moreover, that
many French proverbs begin by Qui (an abbreviation, here, of Quiconque, 'whosoever'), or Tel, followed by qui,—but very seldom does any begin by Celui (or Ceux) qui (as English proverbs do very often, on the contrary, by ‘He that, “He who,'
They that," "They who'); or, again, by ön, Les, and words conveying a general meaning. I should advise you, as a good study of proverbs, to peruse attentively Poor Richard, by Franklin, in this volume, and to compare witń the text the
renderings in the notes. I have taken care to put the word (PROVERB) thus, in a parenthesis and in small capitals, whenever the rendering is a corresponding French proverb; and when it is not, you will then have an opportunity of seeing how the translation must be managed in such a case.
Finally, if, in a sentence, you have, as will frequently occur, to effect a change of turn in several of its parts, be careful not to lose sight, in the confusion arising from either the complication or the transposition-or both together-of words, of any of the ideas conveyed, whether expressly or implicitly, in the original. I know by experience that students often do so, and for this reason I insist on the point, which will be made clearer by means of an example or two.
“A Fox stole into a vineyard where the ripe sunny grapes were trellised up on high in most tempting show.” I—Un renard se glissa furtivement (or, s'introduisit) dans une vigne où des raisins múrs et vermeils étaient exposés au haut d'une treille de la manière la plus appétissante. Now, in this translation, there is not an idea conveyed by any word, or association of words, in the English, which has not been fully rendered, although the transformation in the words themselves has been somewhat great, for a beginner, at least, in the business of translation (but nothing compared to other more difficult and intricate propositions). For, exposés corresponds to show' and to the idea partly conveyed by the use of the passive verb 'were trellised up, whilst treille corresponds to the other idea conveyed by the use of that same verb; au haut de corresponds to 'on high; and de la manière corresponds to the idea implied in the use of the verb 'trellised up' together with that of in a show,' for 'in,' here, indicates the 'manner,' the way the fact was taking place.
Let me adduce another example :
“A bribe in hand betrays mischief at heart.”—Tel coupable se vend qui croyait acheter autrui. Tel is here used as the beginning of a kind of maxim, or proverb, a form suitable to the moral of a fable; coupable answers to mischief at heart;' se vend (betrays himself) is nearly literal; croyait answers to 'in hand,' showing the intention, the expectation; and, finally, acheter autrui (to buy up another) answers to A bribe.' -Observe, moreover, that the antithesis of 'in hand' and ' at heart,' in the English, has been faithfully preserved, by the use of acheter and vendre.
I believe I have now told you all that may be of use to you, in a general way, in the course of this work, and I do trust your translations of the following extracts will be the better for these hints.
(1) This is taken from the excellent and well-known work, entitled James's Fables of Æsop, and published by Mr. John Murray. See page 1, Fable I.
(2) James's Fables of Æsop, moral of Fable CXVII., page 83.