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The other poetry of Rome is chiefly didactic, moral, or social. Rome has no tragedy except in her history, no comedy that is not more than half Greek. Horace, Ovid, Catullus, we read for their inimitable witchery of phrase ; Juvenal, Plautus, and Terence we read for their insight into men; Lucretius for his wonderful force of meditation, so strangely in anticipation of modern thought. But the genius of Roman poetry is wrapt up in its form. It is hardly communicable at all except in the original words. Translations of it are vain exercises of ingenuity.
Horace remains to this day the type of the untranslatable. Such wit, grace, sense, fire, and affection never took such perfect form—the perfect form of some gem of Athens, or some coin of Syracuse-save in those irrecoverable lyrics, where Sappho and Alcæus, they tell us, clothed yet richer thoughts in even rarer words.*
genuity; nor does Mr. Morris mend matters by turning it into a
‘marry-come-up," 'my-merry-men-all” kind of ballad. The majesty, the distinction, the symmetry of Virgil evaporate in both; more than in Dryden, who, at any rate, was a master of the English language and of the rhymed couplet. Mr. Conington's excellent prose version does not retain, hardly seeks to retain, any echo of the music, any trace of the mien, of the mighty Roman. It is useful to those who need help in reading Virgil; but it is not such a veritable version as Mr. Lang has given us of Homer and Theocritus, and Dr. Carlyle of the Inferno, or Amyot of Daphnis and Chloe. There is but one way in which what used to be called the “ English reader" can enjoy his Virgil, and that way is to learn Latin enough to read him, and I earnestly counsel him so to do.
It is a melancholy thought that, with all our new apparatus of scholarship and antiquarian research, the present generation has less vital hold on ancient poetry than our forefathers had. We read it less, quote it less, care for it less than of old. The pedantry of collators and grammarians, the mechanic routine of the examination system, have alınost quenched that noble zest in the classics which was meat and drink to them of old, to Fox, Johnson, Addison, or Milton. Our boys at university and school are ground between the upper and the nether millstone of interminable
* Since Horace, by common consent, is untranslatable, the translations of him, as might be expected, are innumerable. Where Milton and Pope did not succeed, and where many a poet has failed, the prize is not within the reach of mortal man. Lord Derby's shots, perhaps of all, come nearest the bull's-eye. Some odes of Mr. Conington are readable; he succeeds far better with Horace than with Virgil. On the whole, perhaps, the English reader who will study the commentary and version of Sir Theodore Martin will get some definite idea of one of the most interesting figures in the whole range of letters, of the most modern and most familiar of the ancients.
Mr. Munro and Mr. Robinson Ellis have given us editions of Lucretius and of Catullus, which are an honor to English scholarship. The admirable prose version of Lucretius by Mr. Munro is chiefly of service to the student. The poetic power of the great philosopher-poet is seen only in skeleton. Mr. Ellis' crabbed verse translation of Catullus is mainly useful as a specimen of what a translation should not be. Scholars have an incurable way with them, of pelting us with queer uncommon phrases which have a meaning perhaps identical with the original words, but which together produce a grotesque effect, wholly out of
passes,” “Little-goes,” and “Finals;" so that to a prize boy at Eton or Baliol his classical authors are no longer a glorious field of enjoyment and
harmony with the poem translated. How can lines such
“ Late-won loosener of the wary girdle,"
“Pray unbody him only nose forever," represent the airy notes of the most fantastic of the Latin poets, pouring forth his song like the lark on the wing? Or, again, can such a line as
“The race is to Ate glued," represent the majestic terror of Æschylus ?
In spite of Marlowe, Pope, Dryden, and Rowe, who have all tried their hands on the Latin poets, it may be doubted if any translation of them in verse can give any part of their genius, unless it be of the Satires and the Comedies, of which spirited and readable versions, or rather paraphrases, exist. But better than translations are such admirable commentaries on the classics as those of Sellar, Symonds, F. Myers, Simcox, Theodore Martin, Conington, Ellis, and Munro,
of thought—but what a cricket-ground is to a professional bowler, a monotonous hunting-ground for a good "average" and gate-money.
A rational choice of books would restore to us the healthy use of the great classics of antiquity. Most of us find that true sympathy with our classics begins only then when our academic study of them is wholly at an end. The college prizeman and the college tutor cannot read a chorus in the Trilogy but what his mind instinctively wanders on optatives, choriambi, and that happy conjecture of Smelfungus in the antistrophe. A less constant thumbing of glossaries and commentaries is needful to those who would enjoy.
But even to those to whom the originals are quite or almost closed, a conception of the ancient authors is an indispensable condition of rational education. A clear idea of their subjects, methods, form, and genius is within the power of all systematic readers. Our own generation has multiplied the resources by which they may be made familiar. All such resources have their value; a combination of them can give us something, though all together cannot give us the whole. A curious profusion of translation,
in prose and in verse, singular critical insight, and unwearied zeal to present antiquity to us as a whole, is the special service of our own age. Painting, poetry, music, the stage, are all working to the same end. So that, with all that art, criticism, and translation can do, the unlearned, if they seek it diligently, may find the entrance, at least, into the portico of Athene.
It is the age of accurate translation. The present generation has produced a complete library of versions of the great classics, chiefly in prose, partly in verse, more faithful, true, and scholarly than anything ever produced before. It is the photographic age of translation; and all that the art of sun-pictures has done for the recording of ancient buildings, and more than that, the art of literal translation has done for the understanding of ancient poetry. A complete translation of a great poem is, of course, an impossible thing. The finest translation is at best but a copy of a part; it gives us more or less crudely some element of the original; the color, the light and shade, the glow, are not there, lost as completely as they are in a photograph. But in the large photograph-say of the Sistine Madonna-the lines and the composition are