Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

does not prevent the two conditions from being essentially different from each other, even in the same person. Nor is this all. Is not what is regarded as beautiful in one country held to be the reverse in another? The same remark applies with still more force to personal comfort and luxury. The passions and feelings of man are, indeed, very much alike in all countries ; but the manner in which they are excited is very different. Even in the same country, can it be said that the language of sentiment is always the same! Is it not, on the contrary, constantly changing ? Nay, how large a proportion of the words of our own language have ceased to express their original meaning ? Those best acquainted with the localities and scenery described by Chaucer can no longer understand him without a glossary, or without making his language a particular study.

There are many other difficulties which we might mention as a barrier against a faithful translation of a work like the Iliad ; but one must suffice for the present—we mean the inferior power of one language to reproduce what is beautiful, or sublime in another. The question then arises, Is our language equal to the Greek? No competent judge will pretend that it is, however much he may admire our own copious and vigorous tongue. But assuming that in general the AngloSaxon is not inferior in power to the language of Homer, it could hardly be urged that the former is as well adapted as the latter to the subject of the Iliad. It is not so free in its construction; the extensive use made by the Greek of the participle and the infinitive mood, and the various forms in which it employs both, give it a great advantage over all modern tongues, and over all the ancient, with the sole exception of the Sanscrit, which has many characteristics in common with the language of Homer. The large variety of prepositions in Greek which may be combined with the verb, or used separately, according as the poet requires to be more or less energetic and vigorous, the numerous constructions in which the partitive pronouns and articles may be used to avoid sameness, and the remarkable copiousness of its adverbs and adverbial phrases, not to mention its compound words, render the Greek so admirably adapted to the exigencies of the epic that many eminent critics are of opinion that even Homer may be said to owe much of his success to those advantages.

If these facts are assented to, it can hardly be regarded as a reflection on the labors even of the most successful of those who have attempted a translation of Homer to say that he has never yet been faithfully translated into English.* Pope's Homer is undoubtedly the most agreeable and most poetical work ; but it can hardly be called a translation. The version of Chapman is the most Homeric, but it is too often wanting in the simplicity, grace, and dignity of the original. The next to this is the version of Cowper, which is more literal than that of Chapman, but less poetical as well as less Homeric. Here are three poets of undoubted genius ; it may be questioned whether Chapman did not possess as much of the true poetic spirit as either Pope or Cowper, although he, unlike them, is known only by his translation of Homer. It is admitted that none of the three poets has succeeded in giving a satisfactory version of the Iliad, yet others who are no poets åt all have undertaken the same task with few, if any, of the additional qualifications we have mentioned.

We have no disposition to disparage the version of Lord Derby; on the contrary, we wish to do it ample justice. We should like to see other distinguished persons devote their leisure hours to similar efforts ; nay, we would do all in our power to encourage them to do so, for, even though they should signally fail, their example would exercise a salutary influence on the republic of letters. But it were much better that they would first try an easier work than the greatest the human mind has produced. We are sorry, for his own sake, as well as that of classical literature, that Lord Derby did not pursue this course. Had he attempted a version of two or three of the principal tragedies of Sophocles, or Euripides, or even of Æschylus, he would have done more credit to himself and more service to the public than he has by his version of Homer, which, we are sorry to say, is one of the worst that has yet appeared, if, indeed, any inferior translation has ever been printed.

Those of Macpherson, Ogilby, Hobbes, Shadwell, Mumford, and others have, indeed, faults enough ; but the feeblest and most lifeless of them has beauties which are not equalled by anything in Lord Derby's version ; so that, if the latter produce any effect on the character of Homer, it will be to lower his fame. None who read it without comparing it with any other, or with the original, could be persuaded that the original author is the Prince of poets ; nay, indeed few would believe, under such circumstances, that he was a genuine poet at all.

*The French claim that theirs is the most expressive of all modern languages ; but even they admit that among their many translations of Homer there is not one that does him justice. " Mais loasque ensuite,” says Laharpe, “je passai de cette espece d'extase, au desir si naturel de communiquer l'impression que j'avais reçue, à ceux qui devaient m'entendre, et qui ne pouvaient entendre Homere, je songeai avec douleur qu'aucune ces traductions que nous avons, quel qu'en soit le mérite, que je suis loin de vouloir diminuer, ne pouvait justifier à vos yeux ni faire pisser en vous ce que j'avais ressenli, et je souhaitai, du fond du caur, qu'il s'elevât quelque jour un poëte capable de vous montrer Homere comme on vous a montré Virgile.-Cours de Littérature, vol. i., pp. 229–30.

That his lordship is entirely deficient of the poetic spirit is painfully evident throughout the volumes before us; and if he has any real pretensions to Greek scholarship, we have no proof of the fact from the beginning to the end of his Iliad. Not a single note, philological, geographical, biographical, or even chronological, does he give us; he has not a single word to say on any passage whatever. The sublime, the pathetic, the grand, the tender, or the beautiful, elicits no remark from him ; no seeming chasm, incongruity, or interpolation receives any explanation at his hands. Pope was accused of having attempted to translate Homer without having any adequate knowledge of Greek ; but his copious notes are of more value than the translations of

many others, for he has ingenious, instructive, and interesting observations to make on every remarkable passage. Nor does he content himself with merely giving us his own views; he frequently shows how others have thought and written on the same subject, leaving the reader to give the preference to such opinions as he thinks best. It is chiefly for the same reason that the French version of Madame Dacier is so highly esteemed, although there is no English translation except Cowper’s which is so faithful to the original. Even Mumford, supposed to be the least learned of all the recent translators of Homer, has given us some excellent notes, and many of them are of such a character that they could not have been written without a knowledge of the genius of the Greek language; whereas the truth is that there is not a line in the two portly volumes before us which could not have been written with the aid of other translations without the least acquaintance with the original.

But we do not wish our readers to accept our estimate or opinion of any work if we cannot show that it is founded in truth and justice. Before we give any specimen of lord Derby's translation, let us enquire briefly what his lordship had done before he undertook it from which the public had any reason to expect that he would succeed in a literary work of such magnitude, one in which so many authors, emi

nently successful in other departments, had failed. Did he produce anything above mediocrity even in prose ? His warmest admirers cannot pretend that he did. He had, indeed, established a good reputation as a parliamentary debator; if not an eloquent orator, he is at least a fluent and effective speaker. We have ourselves heard his speeches in both houses of parliament, and few have pleased us better. We cheerfully admit, also, that he has many of the qualities of a statesman; nor do we know anything in his private character which, in our opivion, ought to prejudice any critic against him. But need we say that one may be both an orator and a statesman of the first rank, an excellent prose wsiter, and a most agreeable companion and friend, and yet be but an indifferent translator of Homer? Be this as it may, no one who has undertaken the task has more forcibly reminded us of the well-known couplet of Denham than his lordship :

“Such is our pride, our folly, or our fate,

That few, but those who cannot write, translate.” If Homer is not so easily translated, as many pretend, because he is always natural and unaffected, it is not the less true that those qualities enable us to form a more accurate estimate of any translation of his works than would be otherwise possible. It is often said that public taste is changeable ; that what are deemed beauties now, may be regarded as defects in a few years hence; nor can the fact be denied. But it is false taste that is thus variable; cultivated taste is substantially the same in all ages and countries. Hence it is, that, while a particular author may be enthusi

be enthusiastically admired in one country or age, he may be despised in another. Every enlightened nation has its own favorite author, and wonders why he is not equally a favorite with others. In proportion as he possesses genius and is true to nature, he is admired by foreigners. But be it remembered that even the great Shakespeare commands but a moderate share of admiration in other countries, for he is very different in French, Italian, or German, from what he is in English. Let those who are unwilling to admit this bear in mind how little Goethe is read in this country, although his own countrymen admire him quite as much as we do Shakespeare. The same remark may be applied with still more force to Corneille and Molière, Camæns and De Vega. Nay, how few are there among us who read even Dante or Tasso ?

All these are admired by their own countrymen, much more, however, in one age than in another; but Homer has been admired in all countries and in all ages. Those who agree in nothing else are unanimous in regarding him as the Prince of poets, and accordingly his works are received as models in the highest educational institutions of all countries. As the cause of truth as well as education requires that taste should be considered not as a thing capable of changing with the moon, but as the result of unalterable laws—a principle as unchangeable as truth itself-we may remark in passing that there is similar unanimity in regard to Demosthenes as an orator, Thucydides as an historian, and Longinus as a critic.

Nor is this universality of appreciation confined to poetry, history, and oratury ; it applies with equal force to the fine arts, including architecture. Thus, however much the Italians, the French, the English, and the Germans have differed during the last thousand years on what constitutes beauty in art or architecture, all are d'accord in regarding the specimens left us by the artists of Greece-sadly mutilated as they are in most cases, and tarnished by the dust of more than a score of centuries--as models worthy the imitation of all. It need hardly be said that, when all agree as to the merits of a particular work, it will be much easier to determine whether any attempted imitation of it is successful or not than if it were one of the opposite character, such, for example, as that of Hesiod, which is generally considered to possess quite as many defects as beauties.

The first line of his lordship's version may well warn the student of Homer that he has not much to expect in that quarter, for it is nothing more nor less than an indifferent specimen of inverted prose ; at the same time it is word for word the same as the first line of Mumford's, as follows :

“ Of Pelius' son, Achilles, sing, O Muse.” This is rather a singular, coincidence, although there are many such in the new version. The few competent judges who have taken the trouble of examining Mumford's translation when it was first published utterly condemned it as one of the worst; but we fear that if the same will read Lord Derby's they will have to pass a still more severe sentence

it. We transcribe another line and a half in continuation:

“The vengeance deep and deadly; whence to Greece
Unnumbered ills arose.

upon it.

« VorigeDoorgaan »