« AnteriorContinuar »
stricter inquiry which we are now instituting into his merits and đemerits as a translator. While he occasionally departs from the sense of Homer, he is guilty of some violations of English idiom, which escape
the notice of the general reader amid the splendour of his versification, as false notes often pass undetected in a grand crash of music. There is much to be said in palliation of this in à faithful translation, where the poet is seduced into a deviation. from the rules of his own language by an anxiety to conform more closely to the sense of his original; but instances of this fault are not wanting in Pope, where he has no such apology to offer for it. Take, as an example, what in the translation begins at the 167th line of book xxii.
'We greet not bere, as man conversing man,
Met at an oak or journeying o'er a plain.' How much better is Cowper's translation of this passage!. We need not remind the classical reader that Hector is soliloquizing, while he stands awaiting the approach of Achilles; under which circumstances Cowper's interpretation of his sentiments is, as. we believe, the right one, and at all events avoids the blunders and bad English of Pope.
" It is no time from oak or hollow rock
A nymph and swain-soft parley mutual hold, &c. Another and a worse defect in Pope remains to be noticed, which (as far as we know) has hitherto escaped censure, and which yet strikes us as the more blameable, because it is a departure from the principles which he had prescribed to himself. Nothing is more remarkable in Homer than the varieties of his style, and their uniform appropriateness to his subject. To illustrate this by the old simile of a river, (and we know no better,) his stream of verse is as various as that, which now pours in a cataract, now runs dark, deep, and dangerous,' and now winds through pastures and festive gardens, by cabins or by palaces. Pope's verse, on the contrary, is like the Thames in sight of his own windows. He rolls along in sunshine, a magnificent volume of water which is usually
• Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.' Cesarotti sins very much in the way of Pope, and is yet more full of glare and glitter; but Ugo Foscolo, with a rare union of imagination, scholarship, and judgment, has avoided these defects, and bas caught much of the true Ilomeric diversity of style in the fragments of an Italian Iliad which he has published. Thus in one of his specimens, the swearing to the conditions of the duel between Paris and Menelaus, he has closely observed the
solemn, archaic, and monotonous narrative of his original; and in the introduction of Helen to Paris by Venus, which follows the combat, has as dexterously imitated the voluptuous style of colouring with which Homer has painted the interview. He has moreover succeeded in catching the general tone of Homer's style as characterized by simplicity and majesty, a deviation from which has been always objected to Pope, and was so even at the time when his translation was most popular. This Foscolo has accomplished in a great degree by the use of the versi sciolti, a measure perhaps as analogous to that of his original as any that could be found in any living language; unless, indeed, the German must be excepted. His predecessor Cesarotti did not turn this measure to the same good account although he had also the good taste to adopt it; for, though much depends on a right choice of weapons, yet more depends upon dexterity in the use of them. Cowper again, though his version cannot sustain a general comparison with the fragments of Foscolo, has succeeded admirably in this particular. His work, in spite of its unpopularity, is unquestionably a valuable acquisition to English literature: and, indeed, we have little doubt that it would have obtained abundant favour, had he only condescended to bestow some of that labour, which he has employed to so much purpose on other parts of his task, in combing-out the tangles of his too intricate versification.
The renewal of our intercourse with Italy has revived the public attention with regard to the great poets of that Peninsula, and one result of this renewed interest has been the production of many attempts to translate them. We do not think it foreign to the purpose of this essay to give some account of these attempts, but in discussing them, we shall entirely abstain from all comments on the originals, (which would lead us into much too wide a field,) except in so far as any mention of them is incidental to criticism
the translations. And we are the more bound to keep to this resolution, as in order to estimate the necessity of these works, we must once more digress, and, going back in our literary history, say a few words of our best and earlier Italian versions in the golden time of Queen Elizabeth.
In this reign were produced translations of those marvellous works, the Furioso and the Gerusalemme: the first by Harrington and the second by Fairfax. The first (though it has very considerable merit, and, among others, that of being written in sterling English) is very inferior to the second, and, moreover, is an abridgment of Ariosto’s great work. One Italian canto, for instance, containing 150 stanzas, is comprized in 90 of Harrington's, and (what is worse) the poetry is always the part left out, as if it were a superfuous ornament of the narrative. When we say this, however, we must not be understood to insinuate that any part would be well omitted; for Ariosto was as great a dramatist as a poet, and he who, upon a single perusal of the Furioso, finds much to be abridged, will, upon a second, usually believe what he had condemned to be well worthy of preservation; either as characteristic, or as essential to the conduct of the story. If, however, Harrington's version be faulty in this respect, he has still many claims upon our attention. We have already hinted that he is a pure well of English undefiled, and his narrative is almost always lucid and succinct.
The other may pretend to higher honours, and well deserves the eulogium of Collins, in speaking of Tasso
• How have I sighed to hear his magic barp
By British Fairfax strung, persuasive bard, &c.' We do not know a translation in any language that is to be preferred to this in all the essentials of poetry. It is indeed uncertainly executed and requires correction; but if it be inferior in these graces to the productions of a later age, in how many others is it not superior! The translator has thoroughly imbibed the spirit of the language from which he copies, and has withal avoided most of those defects with which the real lover of Italian poetry might reproach the English school. In him there is neither glare, glitter, extravagance, nor that foul fault, confusion of metaphors. His language is strong and simple, and his verse, never monotonous from regularity of cadence, is, like Italian verse and Italian music, distinguished by that sort of hill-and-dale character which conveys the most enduring delight to every cultivated ear, and renders even what may displease in parts, so agreeable as a whole.
Somehow or other, for reasons which it would be difficult to explain, this beautiful work of Fairfax, and that of Harrington, fell (as the Scots lawyers express it) into desuetude, and their matchless originals were taken up and done into English by that most contemptible of translators, Hoole; a man grossly ignorant of the Italian language, quite as much so of the history, climates and countries whence these poets had chosen their subjects and their scenery, and not sympathizing with either of them in any one of their characteristics. In the mean time, some of the greatest geniuses of Italy had been entirely neglected, and Dante, Petrarch and Berni were without a translation.
English literature, however, was destined to be refreshed with new streams from the fountain by which it had originally been fed. Petrarch had been pronounced to be untranslatable, and his rainbow-tints seemed to defy imitation; yet parts of him have been of late transferred into English verse with a care, delicacy, and success, which completely justify the boldness of the experiment.
We can only regret that the distinguished and accomplished lady, who has naturalized so many of these exotics, should have reserved them for the gardens of her friends, and we trust we are not abusing her favours by presenting a single specimen to our readers.
Veiled her sweet smile, as 'twere a passing cloud,
Communion hold in heaven; so beamed serene
That pitying thought, by every eye unseen
That Love ere to bis fairest votaries lent,
In silence, to my fancy, seemed to say,
Who calls my faithful friend so far away?' A few very excellent translations from this poet by Mr. Wrangham have also, we believe, remained within the circle of his private friends.
Dante was also most successfully undertaken by Mr. Carey, and we have at last a complete version of the Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso; a version which admirably preserves the austere character, the over-mastered feeling, the dignity and the majestic repose of its original. One drawback only there is from the admiration which we profess for this work-we cannot but regret that Mr. Carey should have chosen what Dr. Johnson has termed the most diffusive of all species of versification, as the representative of that which is among the most succinct. Every one acquainted with the terza rima, knows that in this metre, with the necessary exception of the conclusion, the sense as regularly closes with the triplet, as it does, in the elegiac measure of the Latins, with the pentameter. Nothing, therefore, can afford a stronger contrast to such a metre than blank verse, however judiciously it
may be managed; and surely the dress of the original and that of the portrait should be similar, if they be not the same. short extract taken from the Inferno will illustrate our opinion. It is the meeting of Dante with Manto, the daughter of Tiresias. a passage eminently characteristic of the poet's most favourite style of description.
: Manto fù, che cercò per terre molte,
Poscia si pose là dove nacqui io :
• Poscia che 'l padre suo di vita uscio
E venne serva la città di Baco,
Questa gran tempo per lo mondo gio.
Appiè de l' Alpe, che serra Lamagna,
Sovra Tiralli, ed ha nome Benaco.
Tra Garda e val Camonica e Apennino,
De l'acqua che nel detto laco stagna.
Pastore, e quel di Brescia, e 'l Veronese
Seguar potria, se fesse quel cammino.
Da fronteggiar Bresciani e Bergamaschi,
Onde la riva intorno più discese.' Now, Mr. Carey's translation of this is very good, but does not give so exact an idea of the original as it might. Dante marches over his ground with a sort of spectral stalk; for each triplet is a separate pace; Mr. Carey moves vigorously and gravely, but he does not (as we would have him) tread in the exact steps of his predecessor, nor yet follow him quite fast enough. A phrase in the Italian poet should be the watchword of his translators— Sie breve e arguto.
was Manto, she who searched
More slope, each way descends.'