« FöregåendeFortsätt »
with my private regards and affections. Toulon is our's (I trust it still is), and my friend General O'Hara commands. I heartily congratulate the nation, myself, and you, upon this happy combination of circumstances; and I promise myself every thing from it. Will you be so good as to keep an old humble servant of your's in your thoughts; and be so good as to excuse also this mode of reminding you of one that has always respected, and always will very sincerely respect you.
“ The person who will have the honor of delivering this to you is Captain Edwards, an officer of thirty-two years unimpeached and meritorious service. He is a person whom I recommend with an earnestness very different from that which generally dictates ordinary letters of recommendation. I am extremely interested in every thing which can contribute to his honor and advantage; and if I can obtain for him your favour and protection, few things could happen more agreeable to me. I have known him for many years; and I have esteemed him as I have known him. He is a man of worth and integrity, if any man is so; and one in whose society it is impossible not to find great satisfaction from his good principles, good temper, and good nature. His object now is to be on the staff.
“Once more give me leave to assure you of my most sincere regards; and do me the justice to believe me always, “ My dear Sir,
“ Your most obedient,
“ EDMUND BURKE. Beaconsfield, October 27, 1793."
The dedication of his translation of Tacitus, by Mr. Murphy, drew two letters from Mr. Burke of mingled acknowledgments and criticism ; the one written from Duke-street, May 26, 1793, the other from Beaconsfield, in December of the same year. In the former he says,
I thank you for the partial light in which you regard my weak endeavours for the conservation of that ancient order of things in which we were born, and in which we have lived neither unhappily nor disgracefully, and (you at least) not unprofitably to your country. As to me, in truth I can claim nothing more than good intention in the part I have to act. Since I am publicly placed (however little suitably so to my abilities or inclination), I have struggled to the best of my power against two great Public Evils, growing out of the most sacred of all things, Liberty and Authority. In the writings which you are so indulgent as to bear, I have struggled against the Tyranny of Freedom; in this my longest and last struggle (the impeachment, to which he had alluded in the foregoing part of the letter) I contend against the Licentiousness of Power.When I retire from this, successful or defeated, your work will either add to my satisfaction or furnish me with comfort. Securiorem et uberiorem, materiam senectuti seposui.”
The second letter is interesting for the literary criticism which it contains.
“ I have read the first book (the translation of Tacitus) through, besides dipping here and there into other parts. I am extremely delighted with it. You have done what hitherto I think has not been done in England; you have given us a translation of a Latin prose writer, which may be read with pleasure.
It would be no compliment at all to prefer your translation to the last, which appeared with such a pomp of patronage. Gordon was an author fashionable in his time, but he never wrote any thing worthy of much notice but that work, by which he has obtained a kind of eminence in bad writing, so that one cannot pass it by with mere neglect. It is clear to me that he did not understand the language from which he ventured to translate; and that he had formed a very whimsical idea of excellence with regard to ours. His work is wholly remote from the genius of the tongue in its purity, or in any of its jargons. It is not English nor Irish, nor even his native Scotch. It is not fish nor flesh, nor good red-herring: yours is written with facility and spirit, and you do not often depart from the genuine native idiom of the language. Without attempting, therefore, to modernize terms of art, or to disguise ancient customs under new habits, you have contrived things in such a manner that your readers will find themselves at home. The other translations do not familiarise you with ancient Rome, they carry you into a new world. By their uncouth modes of expression they prevent you from taking an interest in any
of its concerns. In spite of you they turn your mind from the subject, to attend, with disgust, to their unskilful manner of treating it ; from such authors we can learn nothing.
“ I have always thought the world much obliged to good translators like you. Such are some of the French. They who understand the original, are not those who are under the smallest obligations to you: it is a great satisfaction to see the sense of one good author in the language of another. He is thus alias et idem. Seeing your author in a new point of view, you become better acquainted with him; his thoughts make a new and deeper impression on the mind. I have always recommended it to young men in their studies, that when they had made themselves thorough masters of a work in the original, then (but not till then) to read it in a translation, if in any modern language a readable translation was to be found. What I say of your translation is really no more than very cold justice to my sentiments of your great undertaking.
I never expected to see so good a translation. I do not pretend that it is wholly free from faults, but at the same time I think it more easy to discover them than to correct them. There is a style which daily gains ground amongst us, which I should be sorry to see further advanced by the authority of a writer of your just reputation. The tendency of the mode to which I allude, is to establish two very different idioms amongst us, and to introduce a marked distinction between the English that is written, and the English that is spoken. This practice, if grown a little more general, would confirm this distemper, such I must think it, in our language, and perhaps render it incurable.
“ From this feigned manner of falsetto, as I think the musicians call something of the same sort in singing, no one modern historian, Robertson only excepted, is perfectly free. It is assumed, I know, to give dignity and variety to the style; but what
ever success the attempt may sometimes have, it is always obtained at the expense of purity and of the graces that are natural and appropriate to our language. It is true that when the exigence calls for auxiliaries of all sorts, and common language becomes unequal to the demands of extraordinary thoughts, something ought to be conceded to the necessities which make “ ambition virtue ;” but the allowances to necessities ought not to grow into a practice. Those portents and prodigies ought not to grow too common. If you have here and there (much more rarely however than others of great and not unmerited fame) fallen into an error, which is not that of the dull or careless, you have an author who is himself guilty in his own tongue of the same fault in a very high degree. No author thinks more deeply, or paints more strongly, but he seldom or never expresses himself naturally. It is plain that comparing him with Plautus and Terence, or the beautiful fragments of Publius Syrus, he did not write the language of good conversation. Cicero is much nearer to it. Tacitus, and the writers of his time, have fallen into that vice by aiming at a poetical style. It is true that eloquence in both modes of rhetoric is fundamentally the same; but the manner of handling is totally different, even where words and phrases may be transferred from the one of these departments of writing to the other.”
His niece, Miss French, being about to bestow her hand upon Captain Haviland, Mr. Burke communicated the circumstance to the gentleman already