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But now, with submission to these learned men, this applauded emendation appears to me to be destitute of a sufficient foundation.
First, It is against all the rules of criticism, to substitute a familiar word, such as Eurus, in the place of a proper name, or one less common.
Secondly, It was extremely natural for the poet, in speaking of the Thressa Harpalyce to think of a Thracian river; and as to the distinction of the European and Asiatic Thrace, remarked by De la Rue, that is not much to be regarded, since in the poet's eye Harpalyce was a Thracian of some sort, and that was enough.
In short, if there be any unfitness, or impropriety, in the comparison, as I suppose there may, I would impute it to the author's inattention, or inaccuracy, from which no author whatsoever is totally exempt; and upon that footing, I am against making any alteration, even though the Hebrus be a very slow river; and the more so, because I do not find that any one MS, authorises us to do it.
Yours, &c. 1770, April,
XLV. On Translation --Mickle's Lusiad,
MR. URBAN, THE
great advantages which the world receives from the labours of eminent and learned men, are not so generally acknowledged as they ought to be. In our pursuit of literary knowledge, we seldom stop to reflect on the means whereby we are enabled to attain it. The chronologer, the annalist, the dictionary maker, though men of infinite labour, and some genius, must not expect their reward in that sort of gratitude which contributes to their fame; nay, must be content to be considered as the drudges and pio. neers of literature, to smooth the way for others. Nor does it fare much better with translators; in this case, the original author engrosses the whole applause. A man reads the translation with advantage and pleasure; but thinks the commonwealth of letters no more indebted to the person who introduced it into the language, than to the printer who printed, or to the bookseller who sells the book.
From whatever cause this neglect of translators has arisen,
whether from the general inferiority of translations to their originals, or from a mistaken notion, that a translator cannot be a good poet, (I mean here to speak only of pvetry) it is prejudice that has done much harm to literature, by preventing and discouraging those who are best able to turn their studies that way. How commonly does the world exclaim, when any translation is made by one who has had invention enough to compose an original piece, what pity it is that such a genius should submit to the drudgery of translation; forgetting that the genius of Pope thought it po submission to translate Homer, nor the much greater genius of Dryden to-translate Virgil.
It has been said of translators, and it is, I think, pretty nearly the truth, that they should be able to do something like what they translate, i.e. should be almost as good original authors as those they translate ; and if we duly consider their necessary qualifications, a nice judgment to distinguish and preserve all the beauties of their original; a capacity of giving to the manners their strong and lively marks ; to the speeches their true character and spirit; to the sentiments, their full force and sublimity; to the descriptions, their natural and animated colours; besides the diction and harmony of verse, which are entirely their own; we shall perceive, that the great distance between the translator and the original will vanish, and be ready to own that translation is not the business of those who can only set a verse upon its feet, and tag together half a dozen couplets.
It is worthy of the attention of a translator to make his poem read like an original. Now this can never be attained by a literal translation; but the question is, what latitude shall be allowed to him? This, I think, depends upon the character of his author. In translating authors of so much judgment as Homer and Virgil, he cannot follow them too closely, if he preserves their fire and spirit. Their example
will best teach him when to be plain, and when figurative - and poetical; when to rise into the bold and sublime; when to be humble and unadorned, and when to pay a particular regard to that imitative harmony, in which they theme selves so much excel. Yet even here, he must often correct the idioms which are become obsolete and uncouth; he must soften the speeches and the manners, which to this polite age would appear rude and coarse; and in this he can be guided only by his own judgment. But in poets of less eminence he may use greater liberties. He must exercise his taste to discover their defects, and his art to conceal
them. He must lend them spirit where they are dull, and correct that which is too ardent. He must labour to heighten their beauties, and, where they are wanting, he may venture to supply them, In short, I apprehend that translation will bid fairest for success, which has most intrinsic mrit, and which reads most like an original.
I have been induced to make these remarks by the perisal of a translation lately published at Oxford by Mr. Mickle; who has already favoured the publie with two or three original pieces. 'i'he translation I mean, is the first book of the Lusiad, a Portuguese Epic Pocm in ten books, written by Camoens. Its subject is the famous and useful discovery of the East-Indies, hy the way of the Cape of Good Hope, under the conduct of Vasco de Gama. The adventures of this voyage furnished the poet with real incidents, more beautiful and natural than fancy could hare framed: and for his machinery he bad recourse to the Pagan system.
This celebrated poem, though not equal to the first-rate Epics of Homer, Virgil, and Milton, nay well hold a distinguished rank anong the second; and it is with great pleasure that I behold a resolution taken of rendering it futo English, by so able a writer as the author of the Cong cubine.
The first knowledge I had of this translation, was from an extract in your last Magazine, compared with the old translation of Fanshawe: the latter is indeed true to the sense of Camoens; but no more to be compared to Mr. Mickle's, than a prose translation of the Æneid to Dryden's. If you will permit me to give an opinion, Mr. Mickle's translation promises well to stand in competition with any made in the English language. His characters are well preserved and strongly marked; his speeches have great force and spirit, his descriptions are masterly and sublime; his verse is written in a nervous and lofty diction, and in a fine harmony of numbers. I shall beg leave to produce a few instances as proofs of these obseryations.
The character of Mars is finely drawn; and as great and
Such was the tumult of the blest abodes,
The effect of this action is exceedingly noble; the last circumstance particularly is finely imagined;
Heav'n trembled, and the light turn’d pale
The bending rowers on their features bore,
After describing the first engagement with the Indians, the poet goes on thus:
Unnumber'd sea-fowl rising from the shore,
The turning of one part of the description into a simile and illustration of the other, shews great address, and is a beauty of a new and singular kind, which till now had never a place in any poem,
I might quote many other beautiful passages in this translation ; particularly the fine description of the Night, and that charming sirnile of the Pilgrim; but I omit them, that I may have room to say a few words of that part of versifica. tion, which is usually called sentimental harmony..
By sentimental harmony, I mean not only the sound of words, considered as rough, smooth, broad, soft, &c. but also the length and cadence of phrase, adapted to any sentiment. This I conceive to be as capable of being reduced to certain rules, as the science of music is; for sound is
equally the object of both. The cadence I consider as equivalent, both to the tinie, and to the rise and fall of the notes; and the rough, broad, soft sound of words, as expressive of the forte or piano of music. It is much to be desired, that a good treatise were composed on this subject, which would be a standard rule, not only for composition, but pronunciation. If the narrow limits of the voice in speech be mentioned as an objection, let it be remembered, that music does not enjoy a great variety of expression ; and that the passions (of grief or joy, for example) are rather to be expressed by the movement, than by the rising or sinking of the notes. But the variety of sound in speech, is not less than of notes in music. Dionysius of Halicarnassus in his treatise De Compositione Verborum, says the voice in speaking may rise or sink two notes and a half from its pitch; each of which is capable of a division, even to the eighth part of a note, as may be demonstrated by algebra; which gives no less than forty different sounds. A difference of time too is constituted, both by the long and short vowels, and by every consonant that enters into a syllable, as the above mentioned author has clearly proved; so that speech, both for sound and time, is equal in variety, though not in compass, to the notes of music.
Success in this sentimental harmony, constitutes one great difference between a pleasing and a disagreeable writer. An harmonious composition disguises a multitude of faults. A nice ear then is as necessary io a fine writer, as to a good musician: it is the only rule whereby he can judge of the length, the cadence, and the sound of phrase, that is best adapted to express particular sentiments; and though it be not always required to make the sound imitate the sentiment, yet a writer without an ear will be continually in danger of making the sound counteract it, which-is always to be avoided.
This imitation of the sentiment by the phrase, belongs to prose writers in common with poets; which is evident from hence, that poets in attempting it sometimes fall into prose, a licence not to be allowed, except in the drama. In the above-mentioned translation of the Lusiad, this kind of imitative harmony is often happily attained, as may be seen in the following instances.
The bursting whirlwinds tear their rapid course,