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This translation, on the whole, has much merit; and the latter part, “ The lab’ring “ plowman,” &c. perhaps improves on the beauty of the original: but one circumstance eminently characteristic, is very imperfectly conveyed, tenui stridore volantûm; the faint rushing sound of the spirits in their flight.
ANALOGOUS to the liberty of adding to or retrenching from the ideas of the original, is the privilege which a translator may assume of correcting what appears to him a careless or inaccurate expression of the original, where that inaccuracy seems materially to affect the sense. Tacitus
when Tiberius was entreated to take upon him the government of the empire, Ille variè disserebut, de magnitudine imperii, suâ modestiâ. An. l. 1. c. 11. Here the word modestia is improperly applied. The author could not mean to say, that Tiberius discoursed to the people about his own modesty. He wished that his discourse should seem to proceed from modesty ; but he did not talk to them about his modesty. D'Alembert saw this
impropriety, and he has therefore well translated the passage: Il répondit par des “ discours généraux sur son peu de talent, " et sur la grandeur de l'empire.”
A similar impropriety, not indeed affecting the sense, but offending against the dignity of the narrative, oecurs in that passage where Tacitus relates, that Augustus, in the decline of life, after the death of Drusus, appointed his son Germanicus to the command of eight legions on the Rhine, At, hercule, Germanicum Druso ortum octo apud Rhenum legionibus imposuit, An. l. 1. c. 3. There was no occasion here for the historian swearing; and though, to render the passage with strict fidelity, an English translator must have said, “ Augustus, Egad, gave Germa“ nicus, the son of Drusus, the command of “ eight legions on the Rhine,” we cannot hesitate to say, that the simple fact is better announced without such embellishment.
It may be stated as a general observation, that the nature of the work ought to regu
late the conduct of the translator with regard to the strictness he must observe, or the liberties he may use with his original. Works which consist of fact and detail demand a more scrupulous fidelity than those of which the basis is sentiment.
We have very little of professed translation from the pen of Justus Lipsius, except some small portions of Polybius, which were necessary for illustrating his own Treatise on the Roman Art of War. These passages are rendered into Latin with the most exact conformity to the original text; the writer justly remarking, that in interpreting those parts of an ancient author which treat of controverted facts, or contain descriptions that admit of different opinions, even the change of a single word may be of consequence: cum de re agitur, verbum additum aut omissum, aut laxius etiam redditum, magnas facit vel mutationes, vel errationes. That the same learned writer judged so scrupulous a fidelity by no means requisite in the exercise of the usual duty of a translator, we learn from the advice he gives to a friend, who was then engaged in translating the Treatise De Constantia (a work of Lipsius) into German. This advice, which, though given in the writer's quaint manner, is equally the result of a sound judgment and a just taste, is applicable to all works of which sentiment and eloquence are the basis, rather than fact or narration : “ Constantiam nostram—vertis. Vidi specimen et probo. Illud tamen vellem, plus aliquid tibi permitteres, nec vestigia usquequaque sermonis Latini premeres pede tam certo. Arcta per hanc curam versio, astricta, tenuis, sæpe obscura. Est suus videlicet cuique linguæ genius, quem non avellas, nec temere migrare jusseris in corpus alienum. Qudm multa Latinè breviter scripserim ; quæ si totidem verbis transferas, sententia nec plana satis, nec plena sit ! Qudm multa rectè et altè, que in uliâ linguâ jaceant, aut vacillent! Quod iis præsertim evemit, quorum stilus paullò magis ab eruditione habet et a curâ. Jam allusiones illas annominationes, flexus, et in uno sæpè verbo imagines, quæ tam dextra mens vertat, ut eadem vis iis aut Venus ? Exorbita igitur : et hoc erit rectam in vertendo viam tenere, viam non tenere.
But if such was Lipsius's opinion of the freedom which ought to be allowed, and is even required in the translation of a rhetorical composition, we have seen, that both by his precept and example, he disapproved of all amplification in works of an historical nature, cùm de re agitur. It is indeed much to be regretted, when works of this kind fall, by unlucky chance, into the hands of a pedantic translator, who piques himself on his talent for elegant embellishment. In the Latin version by Bartolomæus Facius of Arrian's History of the Expedition of Alexander, the original work, which in the simplicity of the narrative rivals the composition of Xenophon or Cæsar, is in a thousand instances miserably disfigured by the impertinent amplifications and rhetorical ornaments of the translator. I shall give a single specimen, which is noticed in the Preface by Vulcanius to Henry Stephen's edition of Arrian, 1575. The Greek author, mentioning the false report of Alex