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Is there not a little of that in it? I mean to be singular, in getting above the title of a Translator, though sufficiently honourable in this case. For such an ambition nobody has less occasion, than one who is so fine a Poet in other kinds: and who must have too much wit to believe, any alteration of another can entitle him to the denomination of an Epic Poet himself: though no man in this age seems more capable of being a good one, if the French tongue would bear it. Yet in his translation he has done too well, to leave any doubt (with all his faults) that her's can be ever paralleled with it.
Besides, he could not be ignorant that finding faults is the most easy and vulgar part of a critic; whereas nothing shows so much skill and taste both, as the being thoroughly sensible of the sublimest excellencies.
What can we say in excuse of all this? Humanum est errare: since as good a Poet as, I believe, the French language is capable of, and as sharp a Critic as any nation can produce, has, by too much censuring Homer, subjected a translation to censure, that would have otherwise stood the test1 of the severest adversary.
But since he would needs chuse that wrong way of criticism, I wonder he missed a stone so easy to be thrown against Homer, not for his filling the Iliad with so much slaughter, (for that is to be excused, since a war is not capable of being described without it,) but with so many various particulars of wounds and horror, as shew the writer (I am afraid) so delighted that way himself2, as not the least to doubt his reader being so also. Like Spanioletta, whose dismal pictures are the more disagreeable for being always so very movingly painted. Even Hector's last parting from his son and Andromache hardly makes us amends for his body's being dragged thrice round the town. M. de la Motte, in his strongest objection about that dismal combat, has sufficient cause to blame his enraged adversary; who here gives an instance that it is impossible to be violent without committing some mistake; her passion for Homer blinding her too much to perceive the very grossest of his failings. By which warning I am become a little more capable of impartiality, though in a dispute about that very Poet for whom I have the greatest veneration.
1 It is impossible and absurd to assent to this encomium on the Frenchified Homer of La Motte.
M. D'Acier3 might have considered a little, that whatever were the motives of M. de la Motte to so bold a proceeding, it could not darken that fame which I am sure she thinks shines securely even after the vain attempts of Plato himself against it: caused only perhaps by a like reason with that of Madam D'Acier's anger against M. de la Motte, namely, the finding that in prose his genius (great as it was) could not be capable of the sublime heights of poetry, which therefore he banished out of his commonwealth.
1 An insufferable calumny against our divine old Bard. There are more strokes of humanity than cruelty in the Iliad, notwithstanding these passages hinted at. The interview of Priam with Achilles, when he comes to beg the body of his son, is, in my apprehension, the finest description in any poet, ancient or modern, whatever.
3 Menage wrote this Greek Distich on her celebrated transsi ation.
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But the Abbe Cartaud, in his Essay on Taste, has given a ridiculous representation of this learned Lady, in the act of reciting the parting scene of Hector and Andromache. And adds, that it were to be wished that she had confined her occupations to such as employed the mind and hands of the amiable wife of Hector.
Nor were these objections to Homer any more lessening her merit in translating him as well as that way is capable of, viz. fully, plainly, and elegantly, than the most admirable verses can be any disparagement to as excellent prose.
The best excuse for all this violence is, its being in a cause which gives a kind of reputation even to suffering, notwithstanding ever so ill a management of it.
The worst of defending even Homer in such a passionate manner, is its being more a proof of her weakness, than of his being liable to none. For what is it can excuse Homer any more than Hector, for flying at the first sight of Achilles? whose terrible aspect sure needed not such an inexcusable fright to set it off; and methinks all that account of Minerva's restoring his dart to Achilles, comes a little too late, for excusing Hector's so terrible apprehension at the very first.
September 1, 1718.
I Am much honoured by your Grace's compliance with my request, in giving me your opinion of the French dispute concerning Homer. And I shall keep my word, in fairly telling wherein I disagree from you. It is but in two or three very small points, not so much of the dispute, as of the parties concerned in it. I cannot think quite so highly of the Lady's learning, though I respect it very much. It is great complaisance in that polite nation, to allow her to be a Critic of equal rank with her husband. To instance no further, his remarks on Horace shew more good Sense, Penetration, and a better Taste of his author, and those upon Aristotle's Art of Poetry more Skill and Science, than any of her's or any author whatever4. In truth, they are much more slight, dwell more in generals, and are, besides, for the most part less her own; of which her Remarks upon Homer are an example, where Eustathius is transcribed ten times for once that he is quoted. Nor is there at all more depth of learning in those upon Terence, Plautus, or (where they were most wanted) upon Aristophanes, only the Greek scholia upon the latter are some of the best extant.
4 This is a just character of that excellent Critic's writings; who seems not to have justice done him, either at home or abroad. W.
Your Grace will believe me, that I did not search to find defects in a Lady; my employment upon the Iliad forced me to see them; yet I have had so much of the French complaisance as to conceal her thefts; for wherever I have found her notes to be wholly another's (which is the case in some hundreds) I have barely quoted the true Proprietor without observing upon it. If Madam D'Acier has ever seen my observations, she will be sensible of this conduct, but what effect it may have upon a lady, I will not answer for.
In the next place, as to M. de la Motte, I think your Grace hardly does him right, in supposing he could have no Idea of the beauties of Homer's Epic Poetry, but what he learned from Madam D'Acier's Prose-translation. There had been a very elegant Prose-translation before, that of Monsieur de la Valterie"; so elegant, that the style of it was evidently the original and model of the famous Telemaque".
* To which translation Pope himself was not a little obliged.
* That vain and haughty despot, Louis XIV. would never forgive Fenelon for the many sarcasms scattered up and down in his Telemachus, on pride, profusion, luxury, and arbitrary power. For these, much more than for the “Maxims of the Saints,” was this virtuous and exemplary prelate banished from the court to his diocess. And Cardinal Fleury would not suffer Louis XV. to read Telemachus. As to La Motte, in addition to what has been said of his Odes being morephilosophical than poetical, it may also be observed, that so were his Fables. In the latter also were introduced too many new and improper personifications; and Dom Jugement, Dame Memoire, and Demoiselle Imagination, Talent, and Reputation, seem to be strange actors in a fable. See Fable XIII. His Discourses on Fable, on Lyric Poetry, and on Homer (though so vehemently proscribed by Mad. D'Acier), contain many acute and original remarks. The cheerfulness and equa