to the fpecious miracles of oftentatious art, and the nice selection of refined judgment, If we blame his making the tragic muse too fubfervient to the historical, we must at leaft allow it to be much lefs hurtful to the effect of his representation upon the paffions, than the liberties taken by many poets to reprefent well-known characters and events. in lights fo abfolutely different from whatfoever univerfal fame, and the testimony of ages, had taught us to believe of them, that the mind refifts the new impreffion attempted to be made upon it. Shakespear, perhaps not injudiciously, thought that it was more the bufinefs of the dramatic writer to excite sympathy than admiration ; and that to acquire an empire over the paffions, it was well worth while to relinquish some pretenfions to excellencies of lefs efficiency on the stage.

As it was Shakespear's intention to make Brutus his hero, he has given a disadvantageous representation of Cæfar, and thrown an air of pride and infolence into his beS 3 haviour,

haviour, which is intended to create an apprehenfion in the spectator of his difpofition to tyrannize over his fellow-citizens. In this haughty style he answers the petitions of Metellus Cimber, and the other confpirators, for the repeal of Publius Cimber's banishment: the speech fuits the purpose of the poet, but is very blamable if compared with the historical character of the fpeaker, which ought certainly to have been more attended to. It will divert the English reader to see what Mr. Voltaire affures us to be a faithful tranflation of this fpeech; and I will therefore give the original and tranflation. When Metellus is going to fall at Cæfar's feet, he fays to him,


I must prevent thee, Cimber.

Thefe crouchings and these lowly curtefies
Might fire the blood of ordinary men,
And turn pre-ordinance and first decree
Into the lane of children. Be not fond,
To think that Cæfar bears fuch rebel blood,
That will be thaw'd from the true quality
With that which melteth fools; I

fweet words, Low

[ocr errors]

Low-crooked curt fies, and base spaniel-fawning.
Thy brother by decree is banished;

If thou doft bend, and pray, and fawn for him,
I spurn thee like a cur out of my way.

Know, Cæfar doth not wrong; nor without caufe
Will he be fatisfied.


Cimber, je t'avertis que ces profternemens,
Ces génuflexions, ces baffes flateries,

Peuvent fur un cœur faible avoir quelque pouvoir,
Et changer quelquefois l'ordre éternel des chofes

Dans l'efprit des enfans; ne t'imagine pas

Que le fang de Céfar puiffe fe fondre ainfi

Les priéres, les cris, les vaines fimagrées,

Les airs d'un chien couchant peuvent toucher un fot;

Mais le cœur de Céfar réfifte à ces baffeffes.

Par un jufte décret ton frére eft exilé.
Flate, prie à genoux, & léche moi les pieds ;

Va, je te rofferai comme un chien ; loin d'ici.
Lorfque Céfar fait tort, il a toujours raison.

Ben Johnson, by a faulty tranfcript of this fpeech, or the blunder of a player, had been led into the mistake of charging Shakefpear with the abfurdity of making Cæfar S 4


fay, he never did wrong without juft caufe; and Mr. Voltaire has feized on this falfe accufation.—It is perfectly apparent to any perfon who understands English, that Cæfar by preordinance and first decree means that ordinance and firft decree he had before past for Cimber's banishment. And he says, I will not be prevailed upon by these proftrations and prayers of yours to turn my decrees into fuch momentary laws as children make. If there had been any doubt of his meaning, the latter part would have cleared it.


I was conftant, Cimber should be banish'd;
And conftant do remain to keep him fo.

It is furprising that fome friend did not prevent the critic from falling into so strange a blunder about changing the eternal order in the minds of children. Many of his countrymen understand our language very well, and could eafily have explained to him the fignification of the prepofition into, and that to change into always fignifies to con


[merged small][ocr errors]

vert from one thing to another. Sweet words, crooked curtfies, and base fawnings, he translates, the airs of a fetting dog. Lecher les pieds is not a proper translation of to fawn. Fawning courtiers would be ftrangely rendered by feet-licking courtiers: a fawning ftyle, a fawning addrefs, are common expreffions; but did any one ever think of a feet-licking ftyle? a feet-licking addrefs? Nor is Je te rofferai a jufter tranflation of I will spurn thee: the first being a very low phrafe; and to fpurn is in our language a very noble one, and not unfit for the highest poetry or eloquence; indeed is oftener fo used than in ordinary difcourfe.


[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

To break through law, and fpurn at facred order. If Mr. Voltaire fhould tranflate these words, he would triumph much that one of our most elegant poets talked of drubbing facred order.. The tranflator feems


« VorigeDoorgaan »