Sidor som bilder

Befides all this, an author has the choice of his own thoughts and words, which a tranflator has not; he is confined by the fenfe of the inventor to those expreflions which are the nearest to it: fo that Virgil ftudying brevity, and having the command of his own language, could bring those words into a narrow compafs, which a tranflator cannot render without circumlocutions. In fhort, they who have called him the torture of grammarians, might alfo have called him the plague of tranflators; for he feems to have ftudied not to be tranflated. I own that, endeavouring to turn his Nifus and Euryalus as clofe as I was able, I have performed that Episode too literally; that, giving more fcope to Mezentius and Laufus, that verfion, which has more of the majefty of Virgil, has lefs of his concifenefs; and all that I can promife for myself, is only, that I have done both better than Ogilby, and perhaps as well as Caro. By confidering him fo carefully as I did before my attempt, I have made fome faint refemblance of him; and, had I taken more time, might poffibly have fucceeded better; but never fo well as to have fatisfied myself.

He who excels all other Poets in his own language, were it poffible to do him right, muft appear above them in our tongue, which, as my Lord Rofcommon jully obferves, approaches nearest to the Roman in its majefty neareft indeed, but with a vaft interval betwixt them. There is an inimitable grace in Virgil's words, and in them principally confifts that beauty, which gives fo inexpreffible a pleasure to him who beft understands their force. This diction of his (I must once again fay) is never to be copied; and, fince it cannot, he will appear but lame in the beft tranflation. The turns of his verfe, his breakings, his propriety, his numbers,


and his gravity, I have as far imitated, as the poverty of our language, and the haftiness of my performance, would allow. I may feem fometimes to have varied from his fenfe; but I think the greatest variations may be fairly deduced from him; and where I leave his commentators, it may be I underftand him better: at least I writ without confulting them in many places. But two particular lines in Mezentius and Laufus I cannot so easily excufe: they are indeed remotely allied to Virgil's fenfe; but they are too like the tenderness of Ovid, and were printed before I had confidered them enough to alter them. The first of them I have forgotten, and cannot eafily retrieve, because the copy is at the prefs; the fecond is this;

When Laufus died, I was already flain.

This appears pretty enough at firft fight; but I am convinced for many reasons, that the expreffion is too bold; that Virgil would not have faid it, though Ovid would. The reader may pardon it, if he pleafe, for the freeness of the confeffion; and inftead of that, and the former, admit these two lines, which are more according to the author:

Nor afk I life, nor fought with that defign;
As I had us'd my fortune, ufe thou thine.

Having with much ado got clear of Virgil, I have in the next place to confider the genius of Lucretius, whom I have tranflated more happily in thofe parts of him which I undertook. If he was not of the beft age of Roman Poetry, he was at least of that which preceded it; and he himself refined it to that degree of perfection, both in the language and the thoughts, that he left an eafy tafk to Virgil; who as he fucceeded him in time, fo he copied his excellencies:

lencies: for the method of the Georgics is plainly derived from him. Lucretius had chosen a fubje& naturally crabbed; he therefore adorned it with poetical descriptions, and precepts of morality, in the beginning and ending of his books, which you fee Virgil has imitated with great fuccefs, in those four books, which in my opinion are more perfect in their kind than even his divine Æneid. The turn of his verses he has likewise followed in those places which Lucretius has moft laboured, and fome of his very lines he has tranfplanted into his own works, without much variation. If I am not mistaken, the diftinguishing character of Lucretius (I mean of his foul and genius) is a certain kind of noble pride, and pofitive affertion of his opinions. He is every where confident of his own reason, and affuming an abfolute command, not only over his vulgar readers, but even his patron Memmius. For he is always bidding him attend, as if he had the rod over him; and using a magifterial authority, while he inftructs him. From his time to ours, I know none fo like him, as our Poet and Philosopher of Malmsbury. This is that perpetual dictatorship, which is exercised by Lucretius; who, though often in the wrong, yet feems to deal bonâ fide with his reader, and tells him nothing but what he thinks: in which plain fincerity, I believe, he differs from our Hobbs, who could not but be convinced, or at least doubt of fome eternal truths, which he has oppofed. But for Lucretius, he seems to difdain all manner of replies, and is fo confident of his caufe, that he is beforehand with his antagonists; úrging for them whatever he imagined they could fay, and leaving them, as he fuppofes, without an objection for the future: all this too with fo much scorn and indignation, as if he were affured of the triumph, before he entered

the lifts. From this fublime and daring genius of his it muft of neceffity come to pafs, that his thoughts must be masculine, full of argumentation, and that fufficiently warm. From the fame fiery temper proceeds the loftinefs of his expreffions, and the perpetual torrent of his verfe, where the barrenness of his fubject does not too much conftrain the quicknefs of his fancy. For there is no doubt to be made, but that he could have been every where as poetical, as he is in his defcriptions, and in the moral part of his Philofophy, if he had not aimed more to inftruct in his fyftem of nature, than to delight. But he was bent upon making Memmius a materialift, and teaching him to defy an invifible power. In fhort, he was so much an atheift, that he forgot fometimes to be a Poet. These are the confiderations, which I had of that author, before I attempted to translate fome parts of him. And accordingly I laid by my natural diffidence and fcepticism for a while, to take up that dogmatical way of his, which, as I faid, is fo much his character, as to make him that individual Poet. As for his opinions concerning the mortality of the foul, they are fo abfurd, that I cannot, if I would, believe them. I think a future ftate demonftrable even by natural arguments; at least, to take away rewards and punishments is only a pleafing profpect to a man, who refolves before-hand not to live morally. But on the other fide, the thought of being nothing after death is a burthen infupportable to a virtuous man, even though a heathen. We naturally aim at happiness, and cannot bear to have it confined to the fhortness of our prefent being, efpecially when we confider, that virtue is generally unhappy in this world, and vice fortunate.

So that

it is hope of futurity alone, that makes this life tolerable, in expectation of a better. Who would not

commit all the exceffes, to which he is prompted by his natural inclinations, if he may do them with security while he is alive, and be incapable of punishment after he is dead? If he be cunning and fecret enough to avoid the laws, and there is no band of morality to reftrain him: for fame and reputation are weak ties: many men have not the leaft fenfe of them: powerful men are only awed by them, as they conduce to their intereft, and that not always, when a paffion is predominant: and no man will be contained within the bounds of duty, when he may fafely tranfgrefs them. These are my thoughts abftractedly, and without entering into the notions of our Chriftian faith, which is the proper bufinefs of divines.

But there are other arguments in this Poem (which I have turned into English) not belonging to the mortality of the foul, which are ftrong enough to a reasonable man, to make him less in love with life, and confequently in lefs apprehenfions of death. Such as are the natural fatiety proceeding from a perpetual enjoyment of the fame things; the inconveniencies of old age, which make him incapable of corporeal pleafures; the decay of understanding and memory, which render him contemptible, and useless to others. Thefe, and many other reasons, fo pathetically urged, so beautifully expreffed, fo adorned with examples, and fo admirably raised by the Profopopeia of nature, who is brought in fpeaking to her children, with fo much authority and vigour, deserve the pains I have taken with them, which I hope have not been unsuccessful, or unworthy of my author. At least I must take the liberty to own, that I was pleased with my own endeavours, which but rarely happens to me; and that I am not diffatisfied upon the review of any thing I have done in this author.

« FöregåendeFortsätt »