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ing at “the naked beauty of Antinous, Adonis, or Apollo," without the fig leaves. So much for the general character of English reproductions of ancient literature, in respect of imaginative appropriation and poetical expression. A more difficult point remains,—how far, and according to what laws, is the rhythmical character of literary composition in the ancient languages to be expressed in their modern reproduction ? On this very difficult subject, various opinions have on different occasions been expressed by different writers in this Journal; but the title and pretensions of Mr. Sewell's work, “the Agamemnon translated, literally and rhythmically,” obliges the present writer again to state distinctly, what, after much consideration and experiment, he considers to be the principles on which a safe decision may be founded. On this point also the English school and the German are even more decidedly and vitally at war than in regard to the matters above touched; and, as there has been a great tendency among English scholars latterly to look to Germany as a model, so we find that with regard to the matter of rhythmical translation also, one of our contributors” seems to consider the case of English poetical translation hopeless, unless “the ancient metres be adopted here as in Germany.” It will be some satisfaction, therefore, to our national self-esteem, if an impartial inquiry should after all make out, not only that the Germans are no safe guides for us in this matter, but that they have themselves been led astray by an academical pedantry, (the great vice of their literature,) into thorny wastes, from which a large and healthy aesthetical philosophy might have saved them. Now, without being curious, we may lay it down as a broad principle here, to which all will assent, that the great charm of rhythmical composition in poetry, lies in a certain noble freedom of sonorous movement within certain bounds, along with grace, ease, strength, elegance, point, decision, variously distributed as the place and occasion may require. And most persons, on a little reflection, will be willing to submit also to that dictum of Dryden, that “versification and numbers are the greatest pleasures of poetry,” (preface to Juvenal,) at all events, that a regular well-ordered rhythm is the only quality by which
* Mr. Oxenford, in No. 1x. p. 279.
poetry, in the common acceptation of the word, is distinguished from prose. In a wide and general sense, we all know that poetry is by no tangible test to be distinguished from prose. No greater poets ever existed than Jeremy Taylor, and Plato, and Jean Paul Richter, who yet never penned a line of verse. In common language, therefore, versification and numbers are the prominent distinction of poetry; and in the perfection of its versification and numbers, does the necessary perfection of a poem as a distinct work of art consist. A man may have the most luxuriant imagination, and the most coruscating fancy, yet, if he will write in rhyme, and his verse limps at every other line, we call him a bad poet. He has fine ideas, but he has bungled his work. A poetical work, therefore, rhythmically composed in Greek, must be reproduced rhythmically in English, if it is to be reproduced in its character of a work of art at all, otherwise its characteristic element, (though not by any means its vital soul,) is lost. So far we presume there can be no dispute. Even the fine lyrical compositions of the Old Testament, which we read with so much pleasure in plain prose, would scarcely be tolerable to us in their present shape, had they possessed in their original a rhythm to our ears as appreciable and as familiar as that of the Odes of Horace. But it by no means follows from this postulate, as the Germans seem hastily to conclude, that a good translation must present an exact transcription or copy of the rhythmical movement of the original. For, in order to justify this conclusion, it were necessary that the translating language should, with respect to rhythmical character and capacity, be a perfect match for that from which the translation is made. Now, even with respect to modern languages growing upfrom the same root, and inhaling the same atmosphere, a very few experiments will convince the most sanguine, that this correspondency of rhythmical capacity does not exist. The English language, for instance, is, both by grammatical constitution, and by the usage of its great masters, who tune the public ear, of a much narrower rhythmical capacity than the German. Much more must such a disparity be counted on between Greek and English, and even between Greek and German; for the ancient Greek ear was educated by one set of rhythmical laws, and the modern ear, whether English or German, by another and a very different set of laws. Neither the English nor the German language, in the exercise of poetry, moves naturally according to the laws of Greek rhythm, any more than an English or a German sentence moves naturally in prose according to the laws of Greek or Latin syntax; and to translate Greek poetry with a mechanical repetition of the Greek rhythm, is as much contrary to the laws of the modern languages, and the principles of a just aesthetical science, as to translate Latin prose, observing in the structure of our English sentences the laws of Ruddiman and Zumpt. For the rhythm of a language, we must maintain decidedly, is a part of its vital organism as essentially as its grammar; and no mere translator is entitled to sin against the laws of the one any more than against those of the others. Any man, indeed, with an accomplished ear, may, for his own amusement, or the instruction of others, teach his own language, or any language with which he is sufficiently familiar, to perform any number of metrical feats; and this, it may be, with a certain artificial grace sometimes, as at other times with hideous dislocations and distortions; but such a man does not use his language wisely as an artist, but only makes “metrical experiments” as a philosopher, and aspires, as Clough has well drawn the distinction, “to illustrate the metres of the ancients, not to reproduce their poetry.” This obvious distinction, so patent to our English common sense, the Germans, with their inherent tendency to overdo everything, have failed to recognize; and the consequence is, that while they have produced translations of the great poetical works of the Greeks, remarkable for laborious verbal accuracy, (which, by the way, might have been attained much more cheaply in plain prose,) their labours in this department are for the most part lamentably deficient in that noble freedom, and natural grace of harmonious movement, which is the very secret charm and witchcraft of rhythmical composition.”
* Latin Lyrical Measures; in Classical language to such rhythmical laws, just Museum, No. xiv. p. 250. as the same masters are the great lords
7 Ofcourse we speaknothereof German of the laws of grammar. Very often, translations in hexameter and elegiac even a great master, as we see in the verse, which,having been completelyna- case of Southey, cannot succeed; nor is turalized by the great masters, Goethe the American Erangeline of Professor and Schiller, are now part of the German Longfellow likely to be a more success. rhythmical inheritance as much as the ful gospel of English hexameters than Greek measures were to ancient Rome. was the English Vision of Judgment. But it requires a master, and sometimes In such matters the popular ear is apt a whole school of masters, to subject a to be tyrannical.
Leaving it, therefore, to our curiously-conscientious fellowlabourers, the Germans, to accompany their painful imitations of the ancient tragic choruses, with the music of the fetter and the screw, we may now inquire whether it be not open to us, “practical English,” to find out at once a more philosophical and a more pleasant way. That way is plain. The rhythm of the translated language must not be copied mechanically, but represented aesthetically by the translator. In other words, every rhythmical composition in a foreign language must be translated into that rhythmical form of our native tongue, which is most akin to it in genius, spirit, and compass. This principle, recently illustrated in an interesting paper ascribed to Professor Newman,” is indeed so obviously the true one, that our great translators have, in their practice, either acknowledged no principle at all, or acknowledged this. They might, indeed, make an error of judgment in the application of a right rule; but Pope's reason for rendering Homer into our so-called heroic verse manifestly was, that, according to his insight, he considered this to be the measure in our language most analogous in character and association to the hexameter verse of the Greek heroic poem; and though Pope may have failed in the perception of the true character of the Homeric Epos, that Dryden was felicitous in his choice of the same heroic couplet for the pointed and forcible satire of Juvenal, few are likely to deny. The great error of our English translators, however, in this matter of rhythmical transference has been, that they have too often been guided by no principle at all, but seem to have thought that here was the proper region for the poetic freedom to disport itself in at large. Or again, some of them seem to have proceeded on the rule, that the greatest possible uniformity, monotony, and tameness of rhythmical compass, was the fittest expression for the luxuriant variety and magnificent airy sweep of the Greek. And in the translation of the Greek drama in particular, we find a complete confusion of the most common and essentially distinct rhythmical features. Thus Potter turns the fine antiphonal wail, the finale of the Persians, into vulgar tragic declamation in iambic verse; and even Symmons, in his admirable version of the Agamemnon, gives himself no pains to mark out rhythmically to the English reader the difference between the anapaestic measure of the rāpoooo, the opening chorus, (beginning with 3&arov påv Štoo,) and the Dactylic, Trochaie, and other measures of the argo.gov, or choral hymn proper, commencing with xàgé, eius posiy, (v. 104.) In opposition to this extraordinary looseness, we should feel inclined to lay down the following rules of rhythmical practice as imperative on all poetical translators of the Greek drama. 1. The iambic dialogue, of course, to be rendered in the English blank of ten syllables, but formed more on the measured majesty of our epic verse, than on the irregular dash and quick smartness of our tragic dialogue. With this condition all our translators instinctively agree, except that they would gladly make the Greek dialogue more dramatic and colloquial, after our model, than, as it is, formal and architectural, after the imperfect notions of the Greeks. 2. A distinct and broad line of demarcation must be made between the anapaestic tropodoo, and the choral chaunts. For AEschylus at least, this is a vital point. As to the English measure, which may be regarded as the proper aesthetical analogon to the Greek anapaestic dimeter, this is a very difficult question, which we do not think Mr. Conington has solved by the admirable use of the English rhymed anapaest, which he has made in some passages. The fact of the matter is, that these two measures, the English and the Greek anapaest, have nothing in common but the names. The Greek anapaest in the topo60; of the AEschylean dramas, unquestionably represents the march-time to which the chorus entered the stage and performed other movements, when they were not directly engaged in singing a solemn chaunt round the boué).m, or central theatric altar; while the English anapaest, like the English dactylic verse, as has been elsewhere stated,” seems more nearly connected with movements in triple time. Newman says of it, “the English anapaestic measure may be either jocose, tender, or vehement, and has much capability; yet, from the tendency which it has in common with the hexameter to prosaic forms of speech, it is a peculiarly dangerous one to handle for serious subjects. Besides, it frequently receives unfair treatment from injudicious reciters, who either give too weak an impulse of voice on the accented syllable, (and so convert the lines into prose,) or ac
* Thoughts on Poetical Translation, in the London Unirersity College Magazine for February 1848.