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The Fourth Book of Virgil's Aeneid and the Ninth Book of Voltaire's Henriad   By: (1694-1778)

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Translated into English verse with a view of comparison between the Latin, French, and English poetry.

By the Translator of the HENRIAD.





After reading with infinite pleasure your masterly translations of Virgil, I have been led into a train of reflection on the mechanism of words, and on the manners, the ideas, and pursuits of Nations in as much as they frequently give rise to the difference of character which we remark in their language. Few literary discussions would I think be more curious than an impartial comparative enquiry of this kind.

Not only have the easy elegance and courtly air of your verses displayed the French tongue in these respects worthy of your original; but have inclined me to think that they have raised it near the highest pitch of perfection of which it is at present capable, in the translation of a Latin poet. After two brillant ages of literature the French language did not, till you appeared, possess one translation of the great masterpieces of antiquity, which might fairly be said to have attained the rank of a classical work: while the English had been long enriched with such translations of most of them, as will like yours, in all probability share the immortality of their originals. In the cloud of critics which superior lustre necessarily attracts, many perhaps were not sufficiently aware of the peculiar difficulties of your undertaking, from the nature of the materials which you had to employ, and some not candid enough to compare the work which you have raised out of them, with what they had hitherto been made to produce.

That the English language might be so managed as to surpass the French in expression of strong sentiments, in boldness of imagery, in harmony and variety of versification I will not be sufficiently hardy to assert. The universality of the latter must be admitted as a strong presumption of its general excellency. Yet I cannot help wishing, that some pen worthy to be compared with Monsieur Delille's would give the world an opportunity of judging whether the former may not have some pretensions to superiority in the instances which I have mentioned.

Besides the length of time which has elapsed since the production of Dryden's translation, you will recollect with a sigh, as I do, his own expression: «What Virgil wrote in the vigor of age, in plenty and at ease, I have undertaken to translate,» says Dryden, «in my declining years, struggling with want, oppressed with sickness, curbed in my genius, liable to be misunderstood in all I write. What I now offer is the wretched remainder of a sickly age, worn out by study and oppressed by Fortune»!

It might not therefore be deemed sufficient to compare a work, produced under such disadvantages, in the seventeenth century, (notwithstanding the extraordinary powers of its author) with what is now becoming the admiration of the nineteenth. Much less, sir, will it be just or candid to suppose me capable of publishing my feeble attempt with any view of comparison as to the merit of the performance. Should it be asked, what then could have been my inducement? First, if I am fortunate enough to excite others more capable than myself to try again the comparative force of English language in a new translation, as you have just shown how much can be done in French, I shall have obtained the utmost bounds of my ambition.

Secondly, I am happy to acknowledge the pleasure which I felt an employing some long moments of leisure, on a subject wherein your genius had taken such delight: I hove chosen the fourth book as that which I have had the good fortune of hearing in your own verses, with all the charms of your own recitation; and have pursued this occupation... Continue reading book >>

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