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The groves of Eden, vanish'd now so long,
Of that highly beautiful and exquisitely finished poem, Les Jardins, par M. L'Abbé. De Lille, we possess two translations, one well known from the pen of Mrs. Montolieu, and the other published anonymously in the year 1789.
It is to this version of 1789, now fallen into neglect, and become extremely scarce, that I wish to recall the attention of the lovers of poetry and of the original work, not as being executed throughout with undeviating skill, but as possessing parts of uncommon excellence; such, indeed, as not only do justice to the ori. ginal, but, from the more poetical structure of our language and versification, seem to rise · above it in richness and in tone.' One great cause, however, of this apparent superiority has arisen from the free and very happy manner in "which the translator has often introduced the
colouring, and even the very diction of our noblest bards, where the subjects happened to be of a kind that would admit of such an adoption with judgment and effect. M. De Lille was, to the credit of his taste, a great admirer of English poetry, and has copied in his gardens, though, perhaps, without sufficient acknowledgment, many of the finest passages of Pope and
Thomson, Goldsmith and Gray, passages which, though moulded and naturalised, as it were, by a great and congenial spirit, and the first perhaps of Gallic bards, lose, from the very genius of the language to which they are transferred, and more especially to an English ear, no small portion of their pristine raciness and charm. It is evident, then, that the mere re-clothing of these, as far as it was possible, in the garb and spirit of their primary appearance as to style and manner, would give a great additional interest, in the estimation of a British public, to a poem in so many respects culculated to win upon and fix their regard; and, I may add, that it is a task which, notwithstanding the delicacy and difficulty accompanying it, the transa lator professes, in many instances, to have chalked
out for himself, and in which it is but justice to declare that he has in general succeeded.
What then, it may be asked, has occasioned a version with so many apparent claims to patronage and admiration, to sink into neglect and utter forgetfulness? Two causes may be assigned in reply; the first arising from a source already alluded to, the great inequality of the translation; for though the more poetical parts of the original are transferred with all the energy and beauty just described, there are many and large portions which are tamely and inadequately rendered; a fault for which there is no exemplar in the French poem, as it is one of the prominent merits of De Lille to have betrayed no feebleness or relaxation throughout his design, but to have touched and retouched every part until the whole came from his forming hand a model of simplicity and taste.
The second cause for the neglect which the version before us has experienced, may doubtless be attributed to the circumstance of its having been undertaken within a very few years after the first publication of the original in the year 1782; when, consequently, as no second edition of our translator's labours has appeared, it must want the many episodes and descriptions, (the latter principally taken from English scenery,) which have been introduced into numerous subsequent impressions of the French work. It was not, indeed, until after several editions of “ Les Jardins” had passed through the press, that De Lille ventured to introduce, as he had long wished and promised to do, a description of the gardens of England, and in the impression including these sketches, he thus notices the attempt, beautifully alluding as he does it, to the memory and the rural retreat of the bard of Twickenham: “ Cette nouvelle édition a été retardeé par des obstacles imprévus dont le detail est inutile. La foiblesse de mes yeux et de mes moyens m'ayant empêché de visiter, comme je me l'etois promis, les plus beaux jardins d’Angleterre, je n'en ai cité qu'un petit nombre, cèlèþres par leur beauté ou pars les souvenirs qu'ils rappellent. Tels sont Blenheim, Stow, et le jardin de Pope, si heureux d'appartenir à un homme plein de goût, qui, en conservant religeusement la demeure et les jardins de ce grand poëte, rend à sa mémoire l'hommage à la fois le plus simple et le plus honorable. Les premiers monumens d'un écrivain fameux sont sa maison qu'il a bâtie, les jardins qu'il a plantés, la bibliothèque qu'il a formée. C'est là, si l'on croyoit encore aux ombres, qu'il faudroit chercher la sienne.” *
It is necessary, in this place, however, to mention, that as all the features which constitute the leading excellencies of the work, and which have secured for it a justly merited popularity, are to be found in the early impressions, the subsequent matter, with but one or two exceptions, adding rather to the bulk than the intrinsic value of the poem, the version of 1789 may be considered, as far as it has succeeded in its attempt, as not being deficient in any part which has truly served to build up the fame of the original author. I say, as far as it has succeeded, not only with reference to the more brilliant passages, but under a conviction that its chief and perhaps only fault, springs from
* Les Jardins ; ou L'Art D’Embeller Les Paysages. Poëme. Par M. L'Abbé De Lille. Nouvelle Edition, Revue, Corrigée, et Augmentée. A Londres : Chez B. Dulau et Co. - Soho Square. 1811. Preface p. ix.