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Blackie's Æschylus.


One of Pedro's descendants, who more than a century later sat on the English throne, and in whom we can trace the fiery blood and vindictive temper of his Castilian ancestor, has also been represented by some modern historians, - especially by a lady, his professed biographer, -as having been calumniated by their predecessors. Yet we think that in spite of historical white-washers, the murderer of his infant nephews will be known to our children's children as the Bad King, Crookback Richard ; and that the name of Pedro- the threefold fratricide, who caused his innocent wife to die in prison, who burned women alive, and boiled men in oil, and spilled blood like water, — will be handed down to all posterity linked with his characteristic surname, whatever national advantages (and the constitutional annals of Spain compel us to rate them very low) may be set down to the credit of the most profitable of his crimes.

Art. V. - The Lyrical Dramas of Æschylus, translated into

English Verse. By J. S. BLACKIE. London : 1850. THERE are few literary callings which have been more affected

by the change of public taste than that of the translator. From the time of the Restoration, if not earlier, to the beginning of the present century, the achievement of a decently successful version of a classic author conferred on a man a species of immortality. Those who stood highest as original poets felt that their assurance of posthumous fame was doubly sure when they had associated their names with Homer or Virgil

. It was a triumph to make the Greek or the Roman speak in poctical English, though that English might represent neither the form nor the spirit of the original, being, in fact, only characteristic of the translator and his age. Even where the translator had no individual merit whatever, he was able to gain something of a reputation by re-producing his author in Howing conventional verse. Hoole is still remembered for his • Tasso,' though scarcely, we should imagine, read: and Potter for his ' Æschylus.' The new impulse given to English poetry about the time of the French Revolution marks the turning of the tide. Gifford's • Juvenal' is the last instance of a translation of an ancient writer, which has been received with the honours due to an original work. After the public had once become accustomed to Byron and Scott, they began to care but little for translations ; and the more recent influences of Shelley and Wordsworth have not been more favourable to these unfortunate attempts to entwine the old with the new. The number of translations may not have diminished, but the general stamp of those produced has been lower,-a fact which, in the present state of our literature, cannot be pleaded as a proof of declining national ability, but merely shows that the work has devolved on an inferior class of workmen; while the few exceptions which have appeared of real excellence, - Frere's · Aristophanes, for example, though acknowledged to exist, have not been singled out from the mass for special approbation, so as to encourage men of genuine talent to pursue that method of doing honour to their age. It is true that there is good reason to anticipate a considerable demand for translations of one kind or another, since country gentlemen are not much more conversant than heretofore with Greek and Latin as a pastime; and there is still a certain curiosity among the ladies to know something about those authors who are occasionally mentioned by their husbands and brothers. But the works required are mainly such as can easily be supplied to order by the trade; works which give more employment to the hands than to the head, and are executed nearly as speedily as the translations of foreign intelligence for the daily press.

There can be no doubt that one of the various causes which have contributed to this depreciation of the translator's office has been an increased perception of the difficulties he has to encounter. A translation executed on the principles, which would have satisfied competent authorities a century ago, is now declared, by a large section of those who occupy a corresponding place in the present day, to be comparatively worthless. In this province, at least, criticism has nearly succeeded in reaching what is conceived to be its most probable, if not most legitimate end, - that of destroying productive energy. As usual, its results have been almost entirely negative. It has started objections, without doing any thing to remove them. It has made some progress in showing what translation is not; but we have yet to learn what it is. The question is removed from the position which it held in the Caroline times, and those which succeeded them, into another, perhaps a higher Court; but, for hesitation and delay of justice, equal to the Court of Chancery itself, even in Lord Eldon's time. Dryden and his coadjutors are not now discussing with the public the difference between translation, paraphrase, and imitation, and the extent to which it is desirable to introduce allusions to modern life and manners in a version of an ancient piece. We now talk of an author's work as divided into form and matter, body and spirit, or words to that effect; and the point in dispute is, whether a translation ought to aim at


Difficulty of Poetical Translations.


in spite,

expressing the former as well as the latter, and, if so, in what way this is to be compassed. In the case of prose there is no real difficulty ; every body is, more or less, agreed that the rendering should be tolerably faithful, fairly characteristic, and in good readable English. But in verse the mechanical requirements of composition force speculative questions into a formidably practical shape. In spite of the notable paradox enunciated by some modern philosophers, that prose

is à nobler and more difficult kind of writing than verse, too, of the sober judgment of those who know what composition is, — the majority of people, when they are once possessed of M. Jourdain's discovery, that they have been talking prose all their lives, seem to conclude, without delay, that so common a thing requires no special pains in order to be done well. Verse, however, is seen to be a different matter. Conventional usage - whether rightly or wrongly we leave Wordsworth's literary executors to discuss with the mass of mankind — has established a somewhat fluctuating dialect, which it calls poetical language; and though those who deal in this currency are becoming every day more and more numerous, they still feel that they are practising a species of art, and note its technical difficulties accordingly. In prose literature two nations may have nearly parallel developements; if the writers be alike in spirit, and similarly affected by their contemporaries, the only difference may be little more than the unavoidable one of a mere vocabulary; but in poetry the differences of form seem to multiply indefinitely, till it becomes really a task, demanding considerable insight, to establish any real resemblance between writers of different countries. We may easily compare an English historical work with a Greek or Roman masterpiece; but how can we parallel the Athenian drama with our own? The structure of the two— the presence of the lyric element in one, and its absence in the other, are alone sufficient to render the business of ascertaining similarities almost hopeless. Even when we come to weigh, not whole against whole, but part against part, we find the difference of metres so marked, as almost to preclude comparison. It cannot be denied that hitherto the respective metrical capabilities of Greece and Rome on the one hand, and England on the other, have shown themselves in very different shapes. Ours is a living language, and, as while there is life there is hope, writers of the present time may indulge the expectation that there are new possibilities yet to be called out; but the positive philosopher will pronounce that up to a very recent period, experience has run all one way, and that there is a consequent presumption that the facts of our monosyllables, our accents and rhythm will be found inexorably unbending. * Still, it may be argued, the use of translations is different from that of original composition. Even granting that, in the latter, it would be vain to attempt the reproduction of classical metres; in the former we may feel a sterner sense of duty, commanding us to persevere against obstacles, as being bound to consult, not so much the prejudices and shrinking timidities of our own tongue, but the fixed demands of the author whom we undertake to translate. Admitting this, though the claim may well appear to be a little over stated, we have to ask whether these demands are to be satisfied by the attempted performance of a thing which is seen, under present circumstances, to be impracticable. English hexameters and English sapphics and alcaics, have been produced; but no experimentalist in metrical combinations, to the best of our knowledge, has ever had the patience to frame a regular fac-simile of a long and duly systematised Greek chorus. Such an achievement would be one of those difficulties which Dr. Johnson wished were impossibilities. But while the advocates of one view were thus driven into a corner, those on the other side have been scarcely more fortunate. They plead for analogy, and assert that a translation ought to be to English literature what the original work is to Latin or Greek. When pressed, however, they seem unable, as has been hinted, to furnish us with any precise measure by which to compare the relations eristing in each case. They establish, perhaps, one or two obvious points, such as that Hoiner may be more naturally represented in ballad metre than in elaborate couplets, like Pope's or Sotheby's: but when they come to less unequivocal resemblances, they are rather at a loss. Ought a Greek ode to be rendered by an English ode absolutely ? — and if so, what? In writing his lyrics, is the translator to choose some model already existing in the language - Dryden or Gray, Shelley or Coleridge — according as he may think any of them nearer his author than the rest? Reginald Heber thought Pindar could be thrown into the mould of Walter Scott. Or is he to strike into

• This might be expected from the difference between quantity and accent, however disregarded by us in our Greek and Latin pronunciation. “There is,' says Lord Jeffrey, 'no fixed relation either of number 'or measure between syllables that are distinguished only by the pre• sence or absence of accent; and therefore any system of versification

which proceeds on the supposition that there is such a relation, and • that it is identical with that of long syllables to short, must plainly

proceed upon an intrinsic fallacy. Laureate Hexameters: Ed. Rev. xxxv. 426. The Greek professor, whom Mr. Aubray de Vere found at Corfu, made himself merry with our Greek prosody. — Picturesque Sketches.


Especially of translating Æschylus.


a new strain, such as he fancies his author might have written, if placed under the same circumstances ? Analogy seems almost instinctively to suggest that he should follow the

old path rather than the new; and thus the utter vagueness of the principle comes out.

It has been contended, with good reason, that the genius of English dramatic poetry has led to a diffusion over the whole play of that lyrical essence which the Grecian poets concentrated in their choral odes; whence it has been thought to follow that a translator, professing to embody the spirit of Greek art in the corresponding forms of his own country, in order to do so effectually, is bound to dismiss the chorus altogether, and throw its work on the dialogue. How this can be managed in a translation, is hard to understand. Some in despair are for falling back on prose; which Lessing compares to a drunken man dancing without music. When such obstacles to the solution of the problem are discovered by the increased powers of modern vision, who can wonder that few, with abilities for anything original, should devote themselves to the attempt? or that the public, seeing how little is likely to be realised, should bestow but a small share of its attention on this particular description of native industry?

It may easily be conceived that these general difficulties, applying to all translations of classical poetry, or, at least, of the classical drama, produce various special perplexities in each individual instance. Nor do we know any one who is likely to have the truth forced on his experience more painfully, than the translator of Æschylus. We are not speaking now of the hopelessness of the attempt fully to express, through a TeutonicChristian medium, a spirit belonging to the earliest and least compromised developements of Greek Paganism, nor yet of that lonely unapproached sublimity which, one may well fancy, would refuse to be copied by any power inferior to itself; but, of the intractability arising from the peculiarities of the outward organism in which the poet's belief and the poet's mind have found their natural embodiment,—the language and the measure. Take only one example. Pending any authoritative judgment on the true theory of translation, which, as has been said, is rather to be wished for than to be looked for in the present state of the controversy, the rule of conformity, as between a work of art and a copy, would seem to point out that it is desirable, ceteris paribus, to keep the version within the same compass as the original which it professes to represent. Even the advocate of analogy must admit that in respect of brevity and diffuseness, all languages are pretty much on a par, --- difficulty of expression in some cases being compensated by superior facility in others. There are passages of our own poetry which, in translation, task VOL. XCII. NO. CLXXXV.


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