« AnteriorContinuar »
All these obstacles Dryden saw, and all these he determined to encounter. The expectation of his work was undoubtedly great; the nation considered its honour as interested in the event. One gave him the different editions of his author, another helped him in the subordinate parts. The arguments of the several books were given him by Addison.
The hopes of the publick were not disappointed. He produced, says Pope, “the most noble and spirited translation that I know in any language.” It certainly excelled whatever had appeared in English, and appears to have satisfied his friends, and, for the most part, to have silenced his enemies. Milbourne, indeed, a clergyman, attacked it; but his outrages seem to be the ebullitions of a mind agitated by stronger resentment than bad poetry can excite, and previously resolved not to be pleased.
His criticism extends only to the Preface, Pastorals, and Georgics; and, as he professes to give his antagonist an opportunity of reprisal, he has added his own version of the first and fourth pastorals, and the first Georgic. The world has forgotten his book; but, since his attempt has given him a place in literary history, I will preserve a specimen of his criticism, by inserting his remarks on the invocation before the first Georgic; and of his poetry, by annexing his own version.
“It’s unlucky, they say, to stumble at the threshold; but what has a plenteous harvest to do here : Virgil could not pretend to prescribe rules for that which depends not on the husbandman’s care, but the disposition of Heaven altogether. I deed, the plchteous crop depends somewhat on the good method of tillage 3
and where the land's ill manur’d, the corn, without a miracle, can be but indifferent; but the harvest may be good, which is the properest epithet, tho’ the husbandman’s skill were never so indifferent. The next sentence is too literal, and when to plough had been Virgil's meaning, and intelligible to every body; and when to sow the corn is a needless addition. Ver, 3.
The care of sheep, of oxen, and of kine,
And when to geld the lambs, and shear the swine, would as well have fallen under the cura boum qui cultus habendo sit flecori, as Mr. D's deduction of particulars.
The birth and genius of the frugal bee
1 sing, Maecenas, and I sing to thee. But where did experientia ever signify birth and genius 3 or what ground was there for such a figure in this place : How much more manly is Mr. Ogilby's version :
What makes rich grounds, in what celestial signs
'Tis good to plough, and marry elms with vines;
What best fits cattle, what with sheep agrees,
And several arts improving frugal bees;
Which four lines, tho' faulty enough, are yet much more to the purpose than Mr. D's six. Ver. 22.
From fields and mountains to my song repair.
Ver 23, 24.
Written as if these had been Pallas's invention-
Why shroud-like 2 Is a cypress, pulled up by the roots, which the sculpture in the last eclogue fills Silvanus's hand with, so very like a shroud Or did not Mr. D. think of that kind of cypress used often for scarves and hatbands at funerals formerly, or for widows' veils, &c. * if so, 'twas a deep, good thought.
What’s meant by increasing the year 2 Did the gods or goddesses add more months, or days, or hours, to it? Or how can arva tueri signify to wear rural honours ? Is this to translate, or abuse an author : The next couplet is borrowed from Ogilby, I suppose, because less to the purpose than ordinary. Ver. 33.
The patron of the world, and Rome's peculiar guard. Idle, and none of Virgil’s, no more than the sense of the precedent couplet; so again, he interpolates Virgil with that and the round circle of the year to guide powerful of blessings, which thou strewest around; a ridiculous Latinism, and an impertinent addition; indeed the whole period is but one piece of absurdity and nonsense, as those who lay it with the original must find.
Ver. 42, 43.
And Neptune shall resign the fasces of the sea.
Was he consul or dictator there :
And watery virgins for thy bed shall strive.
Both absurd interpolations.
But where is that void 2 Or, what does our translator mean by it? He knows what Ovid says, God did to prevent such a void in heaven ; perhaps this was then forgotten : but Virgil talks more sensibly. Ver. 49. The scorpion ready to receive thy laws. No, he would not then have gotten out of his way so fast. - Ver. 56. Though Proserpine affects her silent seat. What made her then so angry with Ascalaphus, for preventing her return ? She was now mus’d to patience under the determinations of fate, rather than fond of her residence. Ver, 61, 62, 63. Pity the poet’s and the ploughman's cares, . Interest thy greatness in our mean affairs, And use thyself betimes to hear our prayers, Which is such a wretched perversion of Virgil's noble thought as vicars would have blushed at: but Mr. Ogilby makes us some amends, by his better lines: O whereso'er thou art, from thence incline, And grant assistance to my bold design; Pity, with me, poor husbandmen’s affairs, And now, as if translated, hear our prayers. This is sense, and to the purpose: the other, poor mistaken stuff.” Such were the strictures of Milbourne, who found few abettors, and of whom it may be reasonably imagined, that many who favoured his design were ashamed of his insolence. When admiration had subsided, the translation was more coolly examined, and found, like all others, to be sometimes erroneous, and sometimes licentious. Those who could find faults, thought they
could avoid them; and Dr. Brady attempted in blank verse a translation of the Eneid, which, when dragged into the world, did not live long enough to cry. I have never seen it; but that such a version there is, or has been, perhaps some old catalogue informed me. With not much better success, Trapp, when his tragedy and his prelections had given him reputation, attempted another blank version of the AEneid; to which, notwithstanding the slight regard with which it was treated, he had afterwards perseverance enough to add the Eclogues and Georgics. His book may continue in existence as long as it is the clandestine refuge of school boys. Since the English ear has been accustomed to the mellifluence of Pope’s numbers, and the diction of poetry has become more splendid, new attempts have been made to translate Virgil ; and all his works have been attempted by men better qualified to contend with Dryden. I will not engage myself in an invidious comparison, by opposing one passage to another; a work of which there would be no end, and which might be often offensive without use. It is not by comparing line with line that the merit of great works is to be estimated, but by their general effects and ultimate result. It is easy to note a weak line, and write one more vigorous in its place ; to find a happiness of expression in the original, and transplant it by force into the version : but what is given to the parts may be subducted from the whole, and the reader may be weary, though the critick may commend. Works of imagination excel by their allurement and delight; by their power of attracting and detaining the attention. That book is good in vain which the reader throws away. He