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Mr. DRYDEN'S TRANSLATIONS.
OR this last half year I have been troubled with
the disease (as 'I may call it) of translation : the cold prose fits of it, which are always the most te. dious with me, were spent in the history of the League ; the hot, which succeeded them, in verse miscellanies. The truth is, I fancied to myself a kind of ease in the change of the paroxysm; never suspecting but the humour 'would have wafted itself in two or three pastorals of Theocritus, and as many odes of Horace. But finding, or at least thinking I found, something that was more pleasing in them than my ordinary productions, I encouraged myself
I to renew my old acquaintance with Lucretius and Virgil ; and immediately fixed upon some parts of them, which had most affected me in the reading, These were my natural impulses for the undertaking. Bat there was an accidental motive which was full as forcible. It was my Lord Roscommon’s Essay on Translated Verse; which made me uneasy until I tried whether or no I was capable of following his rules, and of reducing the speculation into practice. For many a fair precept in Poetry is, like a seeming demonstration in the Mathematics, very specious in the diagram, but failing in the mechanic operation, I think I have generally observed his instructions; I am sure my reason is sufficiently convinced both of their truth and usefulness; which, in other words, is to confess no less a vanity, than to pretend that I have at least in some U 3
places made examples to his rules. Yet, withal, I mult acknowledge, that I have many times exceeded my commission: for I have both added and omitted, and even sometimes very boldly made fuch expofitions of my authors, as no Dutch commentator will forgive me. Perhaps, in such particular passages, I have thought that I discovered some beauty yet undiscovered by those pedants, which none but a Poet could have found. Where I have taken away some of their expressions, and cut them shorter, it may possibly be on this consideration, that what was beautiful in the Greek or Latin, would not appear so shining in the English. And where I have enlarged them, I desire the false critics would not always think, that those thoughts are wholly mine, but that either they are secretly in the Poet, or may be fairly deduced from him ; or at least, if both those considerations should fail, that my own is of a piece with his, and that if he were living, and an Englishmạn, they are such as he would probably have written.
For, after all, a translator, is to make his author appear as charming as possibly he can, provided he maintains his character, and makes him not unlike himself. Translation is a kind of drawing after the life ; where every one will acknowledge there is a double sort of likeness, a good one and a bad. It is one thing to draw the out-lines true, the features like, the proportions exact, the colouring itself perhaps tolerable; and another thing to make all these graceful, by the posture, the shadowings, and chiefly by the spirit which animates the whole. I cannot, without fome indignation, look on an ill copy of an excellent original. Much less can I behold with patience Virgil, Homer, and some others, whole beauties I have been endeavouring all my life to imitate, fo abuled, as I may fay, to their faces, by
a botching interpreter. What English readers, unacquainted with Greek or Latin, will believe me, or any other man, when we commend those authors, and confefs we derive all that is pardonable in us from their fountains, if they take those to be the same Poets, whom our Ogilbys have translated ? But I dare assure them, that a good poet is no more like himself, in a dull translation, than his carcafe would be to his living body. There are many who understand Greck and Latin, and yet are ignorant of their mother tongue. The proprieties and delicacies of the English are known to few : it is impoffible even for a good wit to understand and practise them, without the help of a liberal education, long reading, and digesting of those few good authors we have amongst us, the knowledge of men and manners, the freedom of habitudes and conversation with the best of company of both sexes; and, in short, without wearing off the rust, which he contracted, while he was laying in a stock of learning. Thus difficult it is to understand the purity of English, and critically to discern not only good writers from bad, and a proper style from a corrupt, but also to distinguish that which is pure in a good author, from that which is vicious and corrupt in him. And for want of all these requisites, or the greatest part of them, moft of our ingenious young men take up fome cried-up English Poet for their model, adore him, and imitate him, as they think, without knowing wherein he is defective, where he is boyish and trifling, wherein either his thoughts are improper to his subject, or his expreffions unworthy of his thoughts, or the turn of both is unharmonious. Thus it appears necessary, that a man should be a nice critic in his mother. tongue, before he attempts to translate a foreign language. Neither is it fufficient, that he be able
to judge of words and style; but he must be a master of them too: He must perfectly underftand his author's tongue, and absolutely command his own, So that, to be a thorough translator, he must be a thorough Poet. Neither is it enough to give his author's sense in good English, in poetical expressions, and in musical numbers : for, though all these are exceeding difficult to perform, there yet remains an harder tak ; and it is a secret of which few tranflators have sufficiently thought. I have already hinted a word or two concerning it; that is, the maintaining the character of an author, which diftinguishes him from all others, and makes him appear that individual Poet whom you would interpret. For example, not only the thoughts, but the style and versification, of Virgil and Ovid are very different. Yet I see, even in our best Poets, who have translated some parts of them, that they have confounded their several talents; and, by endeavouring only at the sweetness and harmony of numbers, have made them boch so much alike, that if I did not know the originals, I should never be able to judge by the copies, which was Virgil, and which was Ovid. It was objected against a late noble painter, (Sir P. Lely,) that he drew many graceful pictures, but few of them were like. And this happened to him, because he always studied himself more than those who sat to him. In such tranflators I can easily diftinguish the hand which performed the work, but I cannot distinguish their Poet from another. Suppole two authors are equally sweet, yet there is a great distinction to be made in sweetness; as in that of sugar, and that of honey. I can make the difference more plain, by giving you (if it be worth knowing) my own method of proceeding, in my tranlations out of four several Poets; Virgil, Theo
critus, Lucretius, and Horace. In each of these, before I undertook them, I considered the genius and distinguishing character of my author. I looked on Virgil as a succinct, grave, and majestic writer ; one who weighed, not only every thought, but every word and syllable: who was still aiming to crowd his sense into as narrow compass as possibly he could; for which reason he is so very figurative, that he requires (I may almost say) a grammar apart to conftrue him. His verse is every whcre founding the very thing in your ears whose senle it bears: yet the numbers are perpetually varied, to increase the delight of the reader; so that the same sounds are never repeated twice together. On the contrary, Ovid and Claudian, though they write in styles differing from each other, yet lave each of them but one fort of music in their verses. All the versification and little variety of Claudian is included within the compass of four or five lines, and then he begins again in the same tenour; perpetually clofing his sense at the end of a verse, and that verse commonly which they call golden, or two substantives and two adjectives, with a verb betwixt them to keep the peace. Ovid, with all his sweetness, has as little variety of numbers and found as he: he is always as it were, upon the hand-gallop, and his verse runs upon carpet ground. He avoids, like the other, all Synalæpha's, or cutting off one vowel when it comes before another, in the following word. But to return to Vire gil, though he is smooth where smoothness is required, yet he is so far from affecting it, that he feems rather to disdain it; frequently makes use of Synalæpha's, and concludes his fense in the middle of bis verle. He is every where above conceits of epigrammatic wit, and grofs hyperboles : he maintains majefty in the midt of plainness; he fines, but glares pot ;