« EdellinenJatka »
the honour of my native country, so I soon resolved to put their merits to the trial, by turning some of the Canterbury tales into our language, as it is now refined ; for by this means both the poets being set in the same light, and dressed in the same English habit, story to be compared with story, a certain judgment may be made betwixt them, by the reader, without obtruding my opinion on him : or if I seem partial to my countryman, and predeceffor in the laurel, the friends of antiquity are not few : and be fides many of the learned, Ovid has almost all the beaux, and the whole fair sex, his declared patrons. Perhaps I have assumed somewhat more to myself than they allow me ; because I have adventured to sum up the evidence : but the readers are the jury; and their privilege remains entire to decide according to the merits of the cause, or if they please, to bring it to another hearing, before some other court. In the mean time, to follow the thread of
my discourse, (as thoughts, according to Mr. Hobbs, have always some connexion) fo from Chaucer I was led to think on Boccacę, who was not only his contemporary, but also pursued the same Itudies; wrote novels in prose, and many works in verse; particularly is said to have invented the octave rhyme, or ftanza of eight lines, which ever since has been maintained by the practice of all Italian writers, who are, or at least "assume the title of, Heroic Poets : he and Chaucer, among other things, had this in common, that they refined their mother tongues; but with this difference, that Dante had begun to file their language, at least in verse, before the time of Boccace, who likewise received no little help from his master Petrarch. But the reformation of their prose was wholly owing to Boccace himself, who is yet the standard
of purity in the Italian tongue; though many of his phrases are become obsolete, as in process of time it muft needs happen. Chaucer (as you have formerly been told by our learned Mr. Rymer) first adorned and amplified our barren tongue from the Provencall, which was then the most polished of all the modern languages; but this subject has been copiously treated by that great critic, who deserves no little commendation from us his countrymen. For these reasons of time, and resemblance of genius in Chaucer and Boccace, I resolved to join them in my present work; to which I have added some original papers of my own; which whether they are equal or inferior to my other poems, an author is the most improper judge; and therefore I leave them wholly to the mercy of the reader. I will hope the best, that they will not be condemned; but if they should, I have the excuse of an old gentleman, who mounting on horseback before some ladies, when I was present, got up fomewhat heavily, but desired of the fair spectators, that they would count fourscore and eight before they judged him. By the mercy of God, I am already come within twenty years of his number, a cripple in my limbs; but what decays are in my mind, the reader' muft determine. I think myself as vigorous as ever in the faculties of my soul, excepting only my memory, which is not impaired to any great degree; and if I lose not more of it, I have no great reason to complain. What judgment I had, increases rather than diminishes; and thoughts, such as they are, come crowding in so fast upon me, that my only difficulty is to chuse or to reject; to run them into verse, or to give them the other harmony of prose. I have so long studied and practised both, that they are grown into a habit, and become 4
familiar to me. In thort, though I may lawfully plead some part of the old gentleman's excufe; yet I will reserve it till [ think I have greater need, and ask no grains of allowance for the faults of this my present work, but those which are given of course to human frailty. I will not trouble my reader with the shortness of time in which I writ it, or the several intervals of fickness: they who think too well of their own performances, are apt to boast in their prefaces how little time their works have cost them; and what other business of more importance interfered; but the reader will be as apt to ask the question, why they allowed not a longer time to make their works more perfect ? and why they had so despicable an opinion of their judges, as to thrust their indigefted stuff upon them, as if they deserved no better?
With this account of my present undertaking, I conclude the first part of this discourse : in the second part, as at a second fitting, though I alter not the draught, I muft touch the same features over again, and change the dead colouring of the whole. In general I will only say, that I have written nothing which favours of immorality or profaneness; at leaft, I am not conscious to myself of any
such intention. If there happen to be found an irreverent expression, or a thought too wanton, they are crept into my verses through my inadvertency; if the searchers find any in the cargo, let them be ftaved or forfeited, like contraband goods; at least, let their authors be answerable for them, as being but imported merchandise, and not of my own manufacture. On the other side, I have endeavoured to choose such fables, both ancient and modern, as contain in each of them fome instructive moral, which I could prove
by induction, but the way is tedious; and they leap foremost into fight, without the reader's trouble of looking after them. I wish I could affirm with a safe conscience, that I had taken the same care in all my former writings; for it must be owned, that suppofing verses are never so beautiful or pleasing, yet if they contain any thing which shocks religion, or good manners, they are at best, what Horace says of good numbers without good sense, Versus inopes rerum, nugæque canora, Thus far, I hope, I am right in court, without renouncing my other right of selfdefence, where I have been wrongfully accufed, and my sense wire-drawn into blafphemy or bawdry, as it has often been by a religious lawyer, in a late pleading against the stage; in which he mixes truth with fallhood, and has not forgotten the old rule of calumniating strongly, that something may remain.
I resume the thread of my discourse with the first of my translation, which was the first Iliad of Homer. If it shall please God to give me longer life, and moderate health, my intentions are to translate the whole Ilias; provided ftill that I meet with those encouragements from the public, which may
enable me to proceed in my undertaking with some chearfulness. And this I dare assure the world before-hand, that I have found, by trial, Homer a more pleasing task than Virgil, (though I say not the translation will be less laborious.) For the Grecian is more according to my genius, than the Latin poet. In the works of the two authors we may read their manners, and natural inclinations, which are wholly different. Virgil was of a quiet, sedate temper; Homer was violent, impetuous, and full of fire.
The chief talent of Virgil was propriety of thoughts, and ornament of words: Homer was rapid in his thoughts, and took all the li
berties both of numbers, and of expressions, which his language, and the age in which he lived, allowed him: Homer's invention was more copious, Virgil's more confined: so that if Homer had not led the way, it was not in Virgil to have begun heroic poetry: for, nothing can be more evident, than that the Roman poem is but the second part of the Ilias; a continuation of the fame story: and the persons already formed: the manners of Æneas are those of Hector fuperadded to those which Homer gave him. The Adventures of Ulysses in the Odysseis are imitated in the first Six Books of Virgil's Æneis : and though the accidents are not the same, (which would have argued him of a servile copying, and total barrenness of invention) yet the seas were the same, in which both the heroes wandered ; and Dido cannot be denied to be the poetical daughter of Calypso. The fix latter books of Virgil's poem are the four and twenty Iliads contracted: a quarrel occasioned by a lady, a single combat, battles fought, and a town besieged. I say not this in derogation to Virgil, neither do I contradict, any thing which I have formerly said in his just praise : for his Episodes are almost wholly of his own invention: and the form, which he has given to the telling, makes the tale his own, even though the original story had been the same. But this proves, however, that Homer taught Virgil to design: and if invention be the first virtue of an Epic poet, then the Latin poem can only be allowed the second place. Mr. Hobbs, in the preface to his own bald translation of the Ilias, (studying poetry as he did mathematicks, when it was too late) Mr. Hobbs, I say, begins the praise of Homer where he should have ended it. He tells us, that the first beauty of an Epic poem confifts in diction, that is,