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Mr. DRYDEN'S TRANSLATIONS.
'OR this last half year I have been troubled with
cold profe fits of it, which are always the most tedious with me, were spent in the hiftory of the League; the hot, which fucceeded them, in verfe mifcellanies. The truth is, I fancied to myself a kind of ease in the change of the paroxyfm; never fufpecting but the humour would have wafted itself in two or three paftorals of Theocritus, and as many odes of Horace. But finding, or at least thinking F found, fomething that was more pleafing in them than my ordinary productions, I encouraged myself to renew my old acquaintance with Lucretius and Virgil; and immediately fixed upon fome parts of them, which had most affected me in the reading. These were my natural impulfes for the undertaking. But there was an accidental motive which was full as forcible. It was my Lord Rofcommon's Effay on Tranflated Verfe; which made me uneafy until I tried whether or no I was capable of following his rules, and of reducing the fpeculation into practice. For many a fair precept in Poetry is, like a seeming demonftration in the Mathematics, very fpecious in the diagram, but failing in the mechanic operation, I think I have generally observed his inftructions; I am fure my reafon is fufficiently convinced both of their truth. and usefulness; which, in other words, is to confefs no less a vanity, than to pretend that I have at least in fome
places made examples to his rules. Yet, widral, I mult acknowledge, that I have many times exceeded my commiffion: for I have both added and omitted, and even fometimes very boldly made fuch expofitions of my authors, as no Dutch commentator will forgive me. Perhaps, in fuch particular paffages, I have thought that I discovered fome beauty yet undiscovered by those pedants, which none but a Poet could have found. Where I have taken away fome of their expreffions, and cut them shorter, it may poffibly be on this confideration, that what was beautiful in the Greek or Latin, would not appear fo fhining in the English. And where I have enlarged them, I defire the falfe critics would not always think, that thofe thoughts are wholly mine, but that either they are fecretly in the Poet, or may be fairly deduced from him; or at leaft, if both those confiderations fhould fail, that my own is of a piece with his, and that if he were living, and an Englishman, they are fuch as he would probably have written.
For, after all, a tranflator, is to make his author appear as charming as poffibly he can, provided he maintains his character, and makes him not unlike himself. Tranflation is a kind of drawing after the life; where every one will acknowledge there is a double fort 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 thefe 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 lefs can I behold with patience Virgil, Homer, and fome others, whofe beauties I have been endeavouring all my life to imitate, fo abused, as I may say, 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 thofe authors,' and confefs we derive all that is pardonable in us from their fountains, if they take thofe to be the fame Poets, whom our Ogilbys have tranflated? But I dare affure them, that a good poet is no more like himself, in a dull tranflation, than his carcafe would be to his living body. There are many who underftand Greek 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 digefting of thofe few good authors we have amongst us, the knowledge of men and manners, the freedom of habitudes and converfation with the best of company of both fexes; and, in fhort, without wearing off the ruft, 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 difcern not only good writers from bad, and a proper ftyle from a corrupt, but also to diftinguish that which is pure in a good author, from that which is vicious and corrupt in him. And for want of all thefe requifites, or the greatest part of them, most 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 ist defective, where he is boyish and trifling, wherein either his thoughts are improper to his fubject, or his expreffions unworthy of his thoughts, or the turn of both is unharmonious. Thus it appears neceffary, that a man fhould be a nice critic in his mother. tongue, before he attempts to tranflate 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 muft perfectly understand his author's tongue, and abfolutely command his own. So that, to be a thorough tranflator, he must be a thorough Poet. Neither is it enough to give his author's fenfe in good English, in poetical expreffions, and in musical numbers: for, though all these are exceeding difficult to perform, there yet remains an harder task; and it is a fecret of which few tranflators have fufficiently 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 ftyle. and verfification, of Virgil and Ovid are very different. Yet I see, even in our best Poets, who have tranflated fome parts of them, that they have confounded their feveral talents; and, by endeavouring only at the fweetnefs and harmony of numbers, have made them both fo much alike, that if I did not know the originals, I fhould 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 ftudied himself more than those who fat to him. In fuch tranflators I can easily diftinguish the hand which performed the work, but I cannot diftinguish their Poet from another. Suppose two authors are equally fweet, yet there is a great diftinction to be made in fweetnefs; as in that of fugar, 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 translations out of four feveral Poets; Virgil, Theo
critus, Lucretius, and Horace. In each of these, before I undertook them, I confidered the genius and diftinguishing character of my author. I looked on Virgil as a fuccinct, grave, and majestic writer; one who weighed, not only every thought, but every word and syllable: who was still aiming to crowd his fenfe into as narrow compafs as poffibly he could; for which reason he is fo very figurative, that he requires (I may almost fay) a grammar apart to conftrue him. His verfe is every where founding the very thing in your ears whofe fenfe it bears: yet the numbers are perpetually varied, to increafe the delight of the reader; fo that the fame founds are never repeated twice together. On the contrary, Ovid and Claudian, though they write in ftyles differing from each other, yet have each of them but one fort of mufic in their verfes. All the verfification and little variety of Claudian is included within the compafs of four or five lines, and then he begins again in the fame tenour; perpetually clofing his fense at the end of a verfe, and that verfe commonly which they call golden, or two fubitantives and two adjectives, with a verb betwixt them to keep the peace. Ovid, with all his fweetnefs, has as little variety of numbers and found as he he is always as it were, upon the hand-gallop, and his verfe 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 Virgil, though he is smooth where smoothness is required, yet he is fo far from affecting it, that he seems rather to difdain it; frequently makes ufe of Synalæpha's, and concludes his fenfe in the middle of his verfe. He is every where above conceits of epigrammatic wit, and grofs hyperboles: he maintains majefty in the midst of plainnefs; he fhines, but glares not;