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“ This must be said for our translation, that if we give not the whole sense of Juvenal, yet we give the most considerable part of it. We give it, in general, so clearly, that few notes are sufficient to make us intelligible. We make our author at least appear in a poetic dress. We have actually made him more sounding, and more elegant, than he was before in English : and have endeavoured to make him speak that kind of English which he would have spoken had he lived in England, and had he written to this age. If sometimes any of 11s (and it is but seldom) make him express the customs and manners of our native country, rather than of Rome, it is, either when there was some kind of analogy betwixt their customs and ours, or when, to make him more easy to vulgar understandings, we give him those manners which are familiar to us. But I defend not this innovation, it is enough if I can excuse it. For, to speak sincerely, the manners of nations and ages are not to be confounded; we should either make them English, or leave them Roman. If this can neither be defended nor excused, let it be pardoned at least, because it is acknowledged : and so much the more easily, as being a fault which is never committed without some pleasure to the reader."
This is a long extract, but it contains in a few sentences volumes of sound sense, such as you shall seek for in vain through whole æsthetical libraries of our many-folio'd friends, the Germans. It lays bare also, with a happy honesty, the weak side of the English strong man, when he careers along in his path of translation, not like a peeping German engraver on copper-plate, but like a regal Neptune lashing the billowy brine in triumph,--this weakness, namely, that in the heat of his enthusiasm, our English translator is in constant danger to act himself beyond his part, perhaps out of it altogether; in the strong possession of his idea to be a spirited imitator, he becomes a genuine original; instead of merely changing the dress, he has metamorphosed the character, and transmuted the soul of the old Greek. Let that direct manly English sentence stand out strongly as a solemn warning to all English translators from the mouth of their greatest Coryphæus: “ For, to speak sincerely, the manners of nations and ages are not to be confounded; we should either make them English, or leave them Roman.” Not merely not to confound, but to retain, and to bring conspicuously forward, (so far of course as the language
1 For the other side of the case, we cannot do better than refer our readers
back to Mr. Horne's remarks, No. II. of the Classical Museum.
will allow), every trait that is in the slightest degree characteristic of his original,—this, we cordially agree with Mr. Sewell, (p. 76.) must ever be the grand object of a translator; for why do we seek eagerly to know a foreigner, either in life or in books, but for the sake of that which is foreign in him, or characteristic of him as a foreigner? Now, those who have examined English translations with care know, that precisely in this point lies their hereditary liability to offend. Instead of bringing that which is characteristic of their author into the foreground with a forward love, which, even if excessive, were pardonable, they studiously strive to hide it, either letting it drop altogether, or daubing it with a white wash, or working it over with all sorts of modern gum-flowers, and artificial festooning; just as if a painter, commissioned to give a sketch of the wild scenery in the granite district of Loch-na-gar and Balmoral, should, for fear of being thought harsh and over-bold, delineate every eminence, with smooth and gentle lines borrowed from the pastoral slopes of the green Ochills and the Cheviots! Or, perhaps, a worse procedure may be adopted, as in the case of those manufacturers of landscape, whom Ruscan so severely criticises, whose mountains are neither Ochills nor Grampians, but only mountains in general. Many instances of this generalizing style of translation may be noted in Francis' translation of Horace. As for the other, or what we may aptly call, the elegant style, which systematically softens down, and rubs off the characteristic peculiarities of the original, examples of it are to be found everywhere in the English translations of the classics ; for the ancients, and especially the Greeks, had a direct and striking way of appealing broadly to the senses with a few bold words, which is mostly an offence, to the more refined sensibility, and over-delicate fastidiousness of the moderns. Of this fault, however, as it is pertinent to our present purpose, I shall mention a few instances from a translation of the Agamemnon, published within these twenty years. In the sublime opening chorus to this play, “the most wonderful effort,” as Mr. Conington justly remarks, “ of Greek poetry,” Æschylus, after painting the appearance of two eagles devouring a hare laden with young, as an evil omen to the Greek fleet assembled at Aulis, describes Artemis, the patroness of the wild beasts of
* The Agamemnon of Æschylus from the Greek, by John S. Harford, Esq. London 1831,
the forest, as indignant at this offence of the twin birds of Jove (representing Menelaus and Agamemnon), and therefore brooding evil against the house of Atridæ :
Αυτότοκον πρό λόχου μογεράν πτάκα θυομένοισι. In which passage the eagles are called “the winged hounds of the father;" a phraseology at once most characteristic of the thing meant (a compound of celerity and ferocity) of the Greek style of imagery, and above all, of the genius of Æschylus; and a phraseology, therefore, which ought, at any sacrifice to have been retained by a translator who knew his duty, and who appreciated his author. Now, mark how Harford translates :
Diana's wrath this house must feel,
EAGLES, she hates your bloody meal." And in a note he says :-“the term winged dogs or griffins for eagles, is one of those extravagancies of expression in which the wild fancy of Æschylus often indulged, and for which he is pleasantly rallied by Aristophanes in the Frogs” !!! In the same way, where Cassandra, in the vivid picture language of prophecy, describes the king of men as “a bull with black horns,” Harford, as if to smooth down what to a modern fancy may appear the grossness of this favourite ancient image, first adds the epithet "noble” to the animal, and then misses out the “ black horns" altogether. No less is he offended with the chorus, when, in the immediately preceding passage, they describe their blood, in somewhat strong, but in a moment of preternatural excitement, not unnatural language, as becoming yellow with fear,
Επί δέ καρδίαν έδραμε κροκοβαφής
Στάγων. . This yellow drop he makes ruddy.But we forbear to multiply examples of this timid and delicate style of translation, which one may now be allowed to hope, with the single exception of Harford's work, Symmons, by his masculine and
3 The Agamemnon of Æschylus, translated by John Symmons, Esq. A.M., late student of Christ Church (son of
the translator of the Æneid.) London, 1824,
vigorous example, has banished for ever from the field of Æschylean translation. It will not be useless, however, to have brought this matter distinctly forward, as we shall see immediately that a recent translator of undoubted genius, has run, with an unreined plunge, after a fashion really ludicrous, into exactly the opposite extreme.
Recurring to the critical remarks of Dryden, from which we started, we find in the very first words, another fertile source of abuse in our English translations. - The common way," says he, “which we have taken is not a literal translation, but a sort of paraphrase, or something which is yet more loose, betwixt a paraphrase and an imitation.” What this “sort of paraphrase” was, may best be understood by setting before the reader the following four lines and a half from the first satire of Juvenal, with their translation by Dryden :
“ Cum pars Niliacæ plebis, cum verna Canopi
Crispinus, Tyrias humero revocante lacernas,
Thus translated :
" When I behold the spawn of conquered Nile,
Crispinus, both in birth and manners vile,
Here it were the most easy of all things for a scrupulous critic of very minute dimensions, to point out half a dozen or perhaps a whole dozen words, or even a whole line, that has no exact counterpart in the original ; greater still to such a small observer were the offence, that plain “Maevia," mentioned a few lines above Crispinus, in our poet's version, becomes,
" Mannish Maevia, that two-handed whore;"
but, in this particular passage, “the sort of paraphrase” is really executed with such truly Juvenalian vigour and point, that a judicious critic will fear to blame a splendid fault, which has the extraordinary virtue of making the original author write even more like himself in English than he does in Latin. It is not always, however, that the system of paraphrase or sort of paraphrase,” thus nobly exemplified by Dryden, is productive of fruits equally innocent. For, in the first place, every translator is not a Dryden, (and this is a matter which translators, who have no public status as poets, ought seriously to consider); and again, every author will not bear paraphrases; a Horace, for instance, a Tacitus, and we may add, Æschylus. If it be characteristic of an author to use few words, it is, to say the least of it, uncalled for in a translator, to make him use many; if, in the language of Madame de Staël, quoted by Mr. Symmons,
en tous genres nous autres modernes nous disons trop," then verbiage and diffusion will be a fault specially to be avoided by a person who shall translate in the most felicitous style from the antique. And that this fault of sonorous diffusion, and what necessarily goes along with it, decorated interpolation, is one that, to the present hour, remains strikingly characteristic of the English school, we had recent occasion to observe in a short notice of Mr. Swayne's translation of the Prometheus. To the observations there made, we refer our readers for some remarks on this point that would otherwise belong to this place; for the present we shall only express our sorrow that Mr. Symmons, in other respects so admirable, should not have had self-control enough to keep his elastic spirits more tight in rein, nor sufficient self-denial resolutely to clip the occasional faulty luxuriance of his verse. In the translation of humorous and satiric poetry, like that of Horace in his Satires, and Juvenal, a certain light dash of the modern is absolutely necessary in order to produce the humorous and satirical effect; but when a solemn old Doric Æschylus is to be held up to view, every reverential eye whose glance is worth gaining, will prefer to see him in all that naked massiveness, and abrupt startling angularity which is so peculiarly his own,-even as men of taste when pacing the galleries of the British Museum, would prefer look
• Classical Museum, No. XIII. p. 336.