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Since 1750 the only reason - aside from obtaining greater accuracy - for translating Homer or Virgil has been to make us feel the power and beauty of the poems. This few writers have done. Most versions of the classics are unread because they are unreadable, because they are neither poetic in themselves nor capable of suggesting the poetry of their originals. Whoever reads one for any length of time usually does so, not because he is held by the poem, but because he wishes to know what the Greek or the Roman author had to say; and, since this can as a rule be learned more easily, more accurately, and quite as pleasantly through a prose translation, he generally prefers prose. Perhaps he is right; certainly most of the men who in the past have undertaken to put Virgil, Homer, or Sophocles into English were far more likely to write vigorous, interesting prose than to overcome the many difficulties of rime, hexameter, or blan in addition to those of translation. Since Pope's day our best poets either have not attempted anything beyond brief experiments in translation or, like Cowper, have not succeeded. For of course not every good poet is a good translator; in fact, several of the best modern renderings in verse are by men not otherwise distinguished as poets. Wordsworth, who wrote so fine a classic poem as Laodamia, could not translate Virgil or Chaucer effectively. Tennyson, in the opinion of many, might have given us a great rendering of Virgil, but he preferred more rewarding and possibly less arduous tasks; and unless the unexpected happens his successors will do the
Undoubtedly the ideal medium for translating poetry is verse, not prose; but as yet few verse translations have possessed the advantage which theoretically they should have. They are so mediocre as poetry that they leave the reader wondering what there is that is great about Homer, Virgil, and Dante.
Unfortunately, the percentage of English-speaking persons who can read the Greek tragedians or Homer in the original with sufficient ease to make the reading enjoyable is becoming perilously small, and the proportion even of those who can make their way comfortably through Virgil and Dante is relatively insignificant. If these master-poets are to continue a power in England and America, if they are to feed our civilization as they might and as it deeply needs, they must do it increasingly through translations, but translations that we shall read through and not at, poems that will hold us much as the originals hold those who can enjoy them, that will be read not alone for what their originals say but for what they themselves give. And happily the long development through respectable but mediocre work seems to have been of some value. Writers have
gradually learned to be faithful to the original, at first to the letter and more recently to the spirit and manner. They have long since ceased to allow themselves such liberties as Chapman and Pope took, or to be content with such crudely prosaic versions as the early ones of Dante. Translations are becoming more and more worth while in themselves.
What form will be used in the great renderings that we hope are to come it is idle to conjecture. G. H. Palmer has been successful with rhythmical prose; Gilbert Murray, who has done some of the finest and most popular contemporary work in this field, uses rime, as does A. S. Way in his many admirable translations; while C. H. Grandgent has recently shown how effective the difficult terza-rima can be made for rendering Dante. Yet both Cary's and Bryant's very popular works, like the recent versions of Burghclere and Williams, discard rime. Logically, perhaps, the development should be in the direction of blank verse. If that form can be made more supple and rapid and kept relatively free from Miltonisms, it may well prove what so great a metrical master as Tennyson held it to be, the best of all meters for translations from the classics.
TECHNICAL TREATISES IN VERSE
POETRY was a far more common vehicle of expression in the eighteenth century than it has been since. For, although almost every one occasionally drops into rime, amateur verses are to-day regarded simply as verses and do not place their authors among the poets. But in the days of Robert and Horace Walpole any person interested in literature was likely to publish a long, ambitious poem, - an epic, a satire, or a treatise on religion, gardening, or the art of doing something that the author himself had never done. Nor were such works confined to men who made writing their chief occupation; there were a great many from the pens of clergymen, lawyers, physicians, university fellows, or country gentlemen, and a considerable number were produced by cobblers, tailors, carpenters, by threshers like Stephen Duck and milkwomen like Ann Yearsley, and even by children of thirteen or fifteen years. Chatterton and Burns showed what boys and ploughmen might do, while Southey's Lives of Uneducated Poets indicates that there were many others who won temporary success in a field where to-day they would probably not venture. The position of verse is further exemplified in the many sermons, novels, and essays that were rewritten in it, and in the number of long versified attacks on the slave-trade. As Mr. Saintsbury remarks, “Poetry has hardly ever received more, and rarely so much, honour," and "for anybody who would give it (the eighteenth century] verse after its own manner it had not unfrequent rewards, dignities ...
... and almost always praise, if not pudding, given in the most liberal fashion.” 1
This state of affairs resulted from and led to a pedestrian conception of poetry. The distinction between prose and verse was certain to be obscured in an age when there were no great poets, when the didactic impulse had almost supplanted the lyric, when literary leaders were interested in sophisticated city life rather than in nature and valued elegance and satirical power above imagination. Throughout the period there was little understanding of what subjects are suitable for poetry, of how rare is the muse's gift and how
1 Peace of the Augustans (1916), 90-91.
vast the difference between it and the humbler powers of the average person. Consequently, such distinctions as were made between poetry and prose were apt to be the artificial ones of rime or of peculiar word-order and diction, and any scribbler was likely to attempt the most difficult of literary types, the epic, and perhaps a little later to present the public in all gravity with a rimed cookbook or with metrical directions for the raising of hops or children.
The last-mentioned poems, which may be termed "technical treatises in verse,” are among the neo-classic phenomena that we find most difficult to understand. Obviously they owe their origin, and often much more, to Hesiod's Works and Days, Horace's Art of Poetry, and particularly to Virgil's widely-read and admired Georgics. Their authors also received stimulus and sanction from numerous works of the kind, many of them in Latin, composed by French and Italian writers of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. Much of their vogue, however, was due to the feeling that verse forms a sugar-coating for the pill of information, to the belief, apparently warranted, that "the same thoughts which might lie neglected, if published in prose, may be read with some degree of avidity, when a little ornamented with the graces and imagery of poetical diction.” 2 Apparently most persons agreed with the Critical Review in “thinking that didactic poetry is susceptible of all the beauties of the epic, when properly introduced, and may be improved to more exalted purposes”3; for some seventy of these versified technical treatises appeared between 1680 and 1820, and several
1 There is evidence that the following works found some readers among eighteenthcentury Englishmen: Oppian's Halieutica and Cynegetica (c. 180 A.D.), Vida's De Arte Poetica and De Bombyce (1527), G. Fracastoro's Syphilis (1530), Scévole de SainteMarthe's Paedotrophia (1584, very popular), J. A. de Thou's Hieracosophion sive De Re Accipitraria (1584), Castore Durante's Il Tesoro della Sanita (1586), Claude Quillet's Callipaedia (1655), René Rapin's Hortorum Libri IV et Cultura Hortensis (1665), Charles A. Dufresnoy's De Arte Graphica (1668), Boileau's L’Art Poétique (1674), Jacques Vanière's Praedium Rusticum (1696, popular), Gouge de Cessières's L'Art d'Aimer (1745), the anonymous L'Art de Plaire and L’Inoculation (both 1758), E. L. Geoffroy's Hygieine sive Ars Sanilatem Conservandi (1771), Roffet's L'Agriculture and l'Abbé Romans's L’Inoculation (both 1774), Père André de Rouen's L'Art de Converser (1777), Jacques Delille's Les Jardins (1782). Three such works appeared after 1800: J. E. Despréaux's L'Art de la Danse (1806), Colnet du Ravels L'Art de Diner en Ville (1810), L. Hayois's L'Art Épistolaire (1842). For English translations of many of these treatises, see Appendix D, below. On the whole subject, see M. L. Lilly, The Georgic (Baltimore, 1919).
2 Preface to James Foot's Penseroso (1771). Similarly, Richard Rolt, in order to render a historical description of Wales "the more amusing, ... made choice of the poetical diction, as that alone,” he writes, "may possibly invite a great number of British subjects to gather a little information" on the subject (Cambria, 2d ed., 1749,
P. 25 n.).
3 xviii. 475 (1764).
were often reprinted. Two-thirds of them are rimed;' yet, except for the two earliest, Buckingham's Essay on Poetry (1682) and Roscommon's Essay on Translated Verse (1684), only those in the Miltonic measure were widely read. The first of the treatises to discard rime was Philips's Cyder (1708), which on account of its priority and its popularity throughout the century became, together with The Seasons, the model after which most works of the kind were patterned. Their exaggerated Miltonic style and diction, the introduction of episodes, the preference for subjects connected with country life, all point to Philips and Thomson.
Indeed, the writer who next entered the field, William Somervile, said frankly, “I shall not be asham'd to follow the Example of Milton, Philips, Thomson,” and referred to
Silurian Cyder by that great Bard
My feeble Voice to his exalted Strains.3 Somervile was an acquaintance of Thomson's and, being twentyfive years his senior, took the liberty of criticizing his diction and of giving him the advice (which he himself sedulously followed),
Read Philips much, consider Milton more. Somervile also read and considered Thomson; in fact, it is more likely to have been the success of the recently-completed Seasons than that of the far less popular Cyder (which had been twenty-seven years in print) that led him, when already past middle life, to essay blank verse for the first time.
His earliest unrimed poem, The Chace (1735), is a technical treatise only in so far as parts of its four books are devoted to the breeding, training, and care of hounds and to some directions for their use. The popularity which it immediately won, and has never entirely lost, must have been due principally to its spirited descriptions of hunting the hare, the deer, and the otter, as well as (though in a less
· See Appendix D, below. The Monthly Review declared in 1752 (vii. 139–41) that works of the kind should not be written in blank verse.
See above, pp. 97-100. 3 The Chace (1735), preface; Hobbinol (1740), pp. 48–9, cf. 3-4. Somervile's name is spelled with one “l” in his autograph letters and in all the editions of his works published during his lifetime.
• Epistle to Thomson, on his Seasons, in Anderson's British Poels, viii. 504.
5 Three editions were published the first year and at least eight others before the close of the century, besides the six that had been issued by 1801 with Somervile's other poems. There have been five printings since 1850, the last of which, with illustrations by Hugh Thomson, appeared as recently as 1896.