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Grant and Horace Greeley for the presidency of the United States, the latter is, indeed, our choice. Nor do we believe the democracy can pursue a more judicious course than to . adopt Mr. Greeley as their candidate. As for rejecting him merely because he has so long opposed them in his paper, that would be unworthy of a great national party. Should they nominate a more competent man, however, and one more generally acceptable to the intelligent classes throughout the country, then we would urge our readers to vote for the democratic candidate. But to ask any one to vote for a candidate merely because he has obtained the democratic nomination, or the republican nomination, seems to us to senseless a proceeding that we should be ashamed to be guilty of it. When different candidates are before the public we are in favor of the election of the one whom we regard as the best qualified and most honest, without pausing for a moment to inquire whether he is called, or calls himself, a republican, a radical, or a democrat; and hence it is that of the candidates now in the field the one whose election we would urge, with all the energy we possess, is Mr. Horace Greeley.
Art. VI.-1. The Iliad of Homer. Translated into English
blank verse. By WILLIAM CULLEN Bryant. 2 vols.
8vo. Boston: James R. Osgood & Co. 1871. 2. The Odyssey of Homer. Translated into English blank
verse. By WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT. Boston: James R. Osgood & Co. 1871.
MANY a time have we been asked how we can reconcile our overlooking a new translation of Homer with our avowed devotion to the principles of taste, as developed in classic literature. But we have been guilty of no such omission. We have overlooked neither Mr. Bryant's translation, nor any
other worthy of the name. Had we regarded Mr. Bryant's as a superior version when we first examined a part of it, nearly three years ago, none would have taken more pleasure in proclaiming its superiority. Nor would we have postponed so agreeable a task for a single quarter. As it was, we were in no hurry. We think the facts will show that it would have been otherwise had we been influenced either by pedantry or a disposition to give pain. Our real feeling was that we regarded the attempt as one of those in which it is honorable even to fail, especially at Mr. Bryant's time of life.
By this, however, we do not mean that we have at any time considered the version before us in any worse light than that we should wish it were more faithful to the spirit of the original. While thus procrastinating, a gentleman fully competent, who is as friendly towards the translator as we are ourselves, sent us a brief review of the first volume, and this we inserted just two years ago,* under the head of “Notices and Criticisms.” More than a year later, on seeing the first volume of Mr. Bryant's Odyssey, we resolved to give our impressions of the whole version in our next number ; but we had scarcely formed that resolution, when the manager of one of the greatest daily journals in the world requested us to furnish him a review of the new translation. We may remark, in passing, that, having never seen Greek letters used in an American daily paper,t we avoided quoting the original as much as possible, and the brief extracts we felt it necessary to make we gave in Roman letters. But we regarded it as an interesting illustration of the enterprising and enlightened spirit which distinguishes our leading metropolitan journals, that, in sending us the proof-sheets, the editor said : “By all means use the Greek letters ; I will see that they be correctly printed.” And so the fact proved. We had occasion to use Greek in the “ Westminster Review,” when that journal was most classic; also in the “North-American Review,” in its palmiest days-nearly twenty years ago ; and in neither was the language of Homer more faithfully reproduced than in the great daily journal alluded to.
* June, 1870, No. xli.
+ Indeed, the only daily paper printed in the English language in which we had seen the Greek used was the London Times, which contains, from time to time, as learned, elaborate, and searching criticisms as any of the great literary periodicals, for it has been a part of the plan of that journal, for the last quarter of a century, to secure occasional contributions from the most accomplished scholars, as well as from the most eminent authors. Thus, for example, nowhere have we seen a more learned or more satisfactory review of Jowett's translation of the Dialogues of Plato, than in the Times, which devoted a whole page to it. The late Mr. Raymond vied with Mr. Bennett—as he did in other enterprises equally laudable-in his efforts to impart a similar feature to American journalism.
Now, we want to show those who have rallied us about our forgetfulness, not only that we have not been forgetful, but also that we would not say anything of Mr. Bryant, or his translation, in another journal which we would not say in our own. It is superfluous to be more particular as to the columns from which we reproduce this article, than to remark that it was published October 21, 1871:-" The public has now had sufficient time to form its own opinion of Mr. Bryant's translation of the Iliad.' When the first volume was issued we resolved to attempt no critical examination of the work until it should be completed. That time has now arrived, for we have before us the new 'Odyssey,' as well as the new Iliad. Among all who have praised Mr. Bryant's version as the best ever made, there is not one who entertains a kinder feeling toward the translator than we do ourselves. Nor do we yield to any in our appreciation of his own original poems; certainly none have a more sincere admiration for the beauties of Thanatopsis.' But does it follow, that, because Mr. Bryant is both a good poet and a good man, he is a good translator of Homer ? If he is not the latter, should we praise him as such because he is the former? As for praising a translator of Homer merely because he is our countryman, the idea is too puerile to be worthy of a moment's notice. Do the English, the Germans, the French, or the Italians recognize any such canon of criticism? Not fewer than fifty of each nationality have translated Homer wholly or partly; but have their versions been eulogized by their countrymen on patriotic grounds ? No doubt some of them have, but not by critics. If those of the latter who are worthy of the name make any difference, it is in favor of foreign writers—as a matter of international courtesy. This is as true of Schlegel and St. Beuve as it is of Cicero and Quintilian. Since those of our readers who will take any interest in the subject are sufficiently familiar with the habits of English critics in this respect, we need only remark that nothing would offend the latter more than to accuse them of the sort of partiality that has been so widely invoked as a mantle of protection for Mr. Bryant's translation.
“For these various reasons, we must beg leave to consider the work before us solely on its merits. If those merits are not so many, or of so high an order, as we had been led to expect, the fault is not ours. Had the standard of classical education been higher in this country than it is, we should probably not have deemed it necessary to make the criticisms, which, as it is, we approach with sincere reluctance. Although nine-tenths of the eulogies on this version which we have seen are evidently by persons who know nothing of Greek, and whose knowledge of the vernacular is by no means perfect, a large proportion of our students are too apt to accept them as gospel. Youths of fourteen or sixteen do not understand the sort of patriotism alluded to above; still less do they understand the wonderful skill of certain publishers in so operating on editorial vessels containing only small-beer, that they will yield, or at least seem to yield, wine or honey. Accordingly, if they find a translation of Homer declared to be superior to all others, they naturally make use of it to aid them in their own renderings; then, if this translation is not what it purports to be—if, instead of being the best, it is inferior to many, especially in fidelity, or, rather, in want of fidelity, to the original-what is the effect of using it as an authority?
“ It is no harm to remember that many have undertaken to give translations of Homer without any knowledge of the Homeric language, depending for success on their poetic genius, real or imaginary, and on their ability to read and transpose the versions of others. Far be it from us to insinuate that Mr. Bryant belongs to this class, although it is true that, from one end of his Iliad to the other, we do not find the slightest evidence of his having drawn his inspiration directly from the pure original fountain. Not a single note, philological, geographical, biographical, or even chronological, do we find in either of the two portly volumes before us; not an observation, or a word, in the form of prose, beyond the preface. It pains us to say that it would have been well that this also had been omitted; but such is really the fact, for the reason that no one qualified to judge can read it without feeling convinced that there are at least some of the Homeric characters which Mr. Bryant has utterly failed to comprehend. It may seem unkind as well as unjust to assert that he does not understand even the great hero of the Iliad ; but no Homeric scholar would require any stronger evidence of the fact than that Mr. Bryant's estimate of Achilles is that "he is a ferocious barbarian at best, and, as the narrative proceeds, he loses all title to our interest.' The reasons assigned for passing this judgment are such as might have been assigned against the most renowned chieftains of real life, including Alexander, Cæsar, Hannibal, and Scipio Africanus.
“There can be no greater mistake, although no mistake is more common, than to regard Achilles merely as a great warrior. The critics of all nations, from Longinus and Quintilian to Bentley and Maginn, consider that his unfathomable intellect is as striking a characteristic of him, and contributes as much to render him unique in his grandeur, as his gigantic strength and indomitable courage. The ninth book alone fully vindicates Achilles from the imputation of barbarity ; but it is necessary to be prepared to read it, as we will show presently. Those who have undergone this preparation need only read the speeches of Ulysses, Phænix, and Ajax-on the occasion of their being sent as ambassadors by Agamemnon to Achillesand the reply of the hero to each. These speeches have been