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Letters Concerning Poetical Translations And Virgil's and Milton's Arts of Verse, &c.   By: (1682-1754)

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Poetical Translations, &c.

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Poetical Translations,



ARTS of VERSE, &c.

LONDON : Printed for J. ROBERTS, near the Oxford Arms in Warwick Lane . MDCCXXXIX.



I am now going to obey your Commands; but you must let me do it in my own way, that is, write as much, or as little at a time as I may have an Inclination to, and just as things offer themselves. After this manner you may receive in a few Letters, all that I have said to you about poetical Translations, and the resemblance there is between Virgil's and Milton's Versification, and some other Matters of the same nature.

To begin with the Business of Translation.

Whoever sits down to translate a Poet, ought in the first place to consider his Author's peculiar Stile ; for without this, tho' the Translation may be very good in all other respects, it will hardly deserve the Name of a Translation.

The two great Men amongst the Antients differ from each other as much in this particular as in the Subjects they treat of. The Stile of Homer , who sings the Anger or Rage of Achilles , is rapid . The Stile of Virgil , who celebrates the Piety of Æneas , is majestick . But it may be proper to explain in what this Difference consists.

The Stile is rapid , when several Relatives, each at the head of a separate Sentence, are governed by one Antecedent, or several Verbs by one Nominative Case, to the close of the Period.

Thus in Homer :

"Goddess, sing the pernicious Anger of Achilles , which brought infinite Woes to the Grecians , and sent many valiant Souls of Heroes to Hell, and gave their Bodies to the Dogs, and to the Fowls of the Air."

Here you see it is the Anger of Achilles , that does all that is mentioned in three or four Lines. Now if the Translator does not nicely observe Homer's Stile in this Passage, all the Fire of Homer will be lost. For Example: "O Heavenly Goddess, sing the Wrath of the Son of Peleus , the fatal Source of all the Woes of the Grecians , that Wrath which sent the Souls of many Heroes to Pluto's gloomy Empire, while their Bodies lay upon the Shore, and were torn by devouring Dogs, and hungry Vultures."

Here you see the Spirit of Homer evaporates; and in what immediately follows, if the Stile of Homer is not nicely attended to, if any great matter is added or left out, Homer will be fought for in vain in the Translation. He always hurries on as fast as possible, as Horace justly observes, semper ad eventum festinat ; and that is the reason why he introduces his first Speech without any Connection, by a sudden Transition; and why he so often brings in his [Greek: ton d' apameibomenos]: He has not patience to stay to work his Speeches artfully into the Subject.

Here you see what is a rapid Stile. I will now shew you what is quite the contrary, that is, a majestic one . To instance in Virgil : "Arms and the Man I sing; the first who from the Shores of Troy (the Fugitive of Heav'n) came to Italy and the Lavinian Coast." Here you perceive the Subject matter is retarded by the Inversion of the Phrase , and by that Parenthesis , the Fugitive of Heaven all which occasions Delay ; and Delay (as a learned Writer upon a Passage of this nature in Tasso observes) is the Property of Majesty: For which Reason when Virgil represents Dido in her greatest Pomp, it is,

Reginam cunctantem ad limina primi Poenorum expectant .

For the same Reason he introduces the most solemn and most important Speech in the Æneid , with three Monosyllables, which causes great Delay in the Speaker, and gives great Majesty to the Speech.

O Qui Res Hominumq; Deumq;

These three Syllables occasion three short Pauses. O Qui Res How slow and how stately is this Passage!

But it happens that I can set the Beginning of the Æneid in a clear Light for my purpose, by two Translations of that Passage, both by the same Hand; one of which is exactly in the manner of Virgil , the other in the manner of Homer : The two Translations are made by the Reverend Mr... Continue reading book >>

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