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Close of the
The gods by thee, in righteous judgment, show
Their grace untender ;
Like death shalt render.' An exact student of the Greek might complain that commentary is too much mixed up here with strict translation; but this, though undeniably one of Mr. Blackie's sins, is venial, and even laudable, in the present instance; where, though the sense of Æschylus is generally plain, hardly a single sentence appears to have come down to us as he wrote it: So that a little interpolation and adaptation are almost necessary to give a notion of the text as it should be a fair stretch of the translator's privilege, since the mere English reader could have no interest in seeing a barren fac-simile of the text. Nor will we stop to indicate either the points where we differ from the sense given to the original, or the one or two expressions which strike us as out of taste. Our readers will have remarked that the passage is one requiring vigour of handling rather than delicacy of touch or ornamental skill; and consequently, if we have formed a right judgment of his peculiar merits and deficiencies, well adapted to Mr. Blackie's power. But it would be wrong to infer from this that he is not capable of giving effect to the more pathetic parts of his author; on the contrary, his native simplicity has enabled him, on more than one occasion, to do them justice. Let us turn to the conclusion of the Persians, which, as he rightly observes in his preface to the play, however ridiculous it may appear to the taste of Bishop Blomfield and other modern critics, must have been wonderfully effective to an ancient audience, the exhibition of national lamentation being brought to a climax in a grand antiphonal chant. We more readily choose the passage as coming from one of the less known dramas, not from the Prometheus, nor from any member of the great Trilogy: • Xerxes. Weep, and while the salt tears flow, STROPHE 6.
To the palace let us go!
To the palace with thee go.
Lift the wail to my desire!
We lift the wail to thy desire.
Oaring with the oars of woe!
Chorus. Our arms we lift, dark woes deploring,
With the oars of sorrow oaring.
Lift the wail to my desire !
We lift the wail to thy desire.
Like a Mysian wailer's dirge! . Chorus. Even as a dirge, a Mysian dirge. Xerxes. From thy chin the honour tear,
Pluck thy beard of snowy hair. Chorus. We tear, we tear the snowy hair. Xerxes. Lift again the thrilling strain. Chorus. Again, again ascends the strain. Xerxes. From thy breast the white robe tear, ANTISTROPHE 7.
Make thy wounded bosom bare !
Weep in baldness for the dead!
Gently, gently tread the street ! Chorus. Gently we tread the grief-sown soil. Xerxes. The ships, the ships by Ajax' isle,
The triremes worked our ruin sheer. : Chorus. Go! thy convoy be a tear!'
Before we quit the lyrical part of the work, we would express our regret that Mr. Blackie (save in the opening of the Persians, which he will himself admit to be an exceptional case) has not availed himself of the English anapæstic measure as a natural equivalent to the systems of anapæsts in which Æschylus, more than either of the other two tragedians, seems to delight. As we hinted above, we are no advocates for forcing classical metres upon an uncongenial language; but where such a metre does exist as a plant of indigenous growth, it is surely well to take advantage of it. Mr. Blackie may question its appropriateness, 1850.
A Translator's Choice of Evils.
remembering the numberless instances in which it has been used for lighter strains, or, at least, for pieces of mere sentiment, like the Irish Melodies. But we think one such example as Wolfe's lines on Sir John Moore -- a regular set of anapæsts after the Greek model, each dimeter being followed by a paræmiac, as in the Aristophanic parabasis — ought to prove that the measure is capable of moving to the most solemn and stately music. The trochees, sometimes rhymed, more frequently unrhymed, which Mr. Blackie adopts instead, do not seem to us a very happy substitution; while their composition betrays a sort of interminable facility, which renders them unfit representatives of such splendid pieces of measured recitative as those which introduce the chorus in the Suppliants and in the Agamemnon.
In the dialogue Mr. Blackie, as was to be expected, has abandoned the line-for-line principle, which we saw a few pages back to be so desirable in itself, yet so fatal in its actual working. We cannot but think the surrender especially unfortunate in his case; for it tends to foster his particular failings, — that of an occasional redundancy of style, which requires to be bound by the strictest restraints of form and metre, and a tendency to incorporate explanatory matter into the text, instead of reserving it for a note. This last propensity is, indeed, one which, if very sparingly used, may deserve the name of a virtue, as it may happen that the peculiar stringency of the Greek actually requires a little relaxation to make it endurable in English. The mere position of the words in a Greek sentence may convey an effect which our own language, even if it could always tolerate similar collocations, can only transmit adequately by breaking up the arrangement, and putting the more emphatic words into a separate clause. Besides, there is a wonderful power of expressive reticence in the Greek particles, which it is frequently impossible to attain in literal translation, so that the reticence must be infringed, in order to preserve the expressiveness. But this, when it is done, should be done very slightly, not as though a licence were thereby given to expatiate freely, and bring out the whole of the latent meaning without any chance of mistake. Much may often be done merely by the judicious modulation of a passage, the stress being made to fall on the emphatic words, and the remainder being left to the discrimination of a practised reader, who will bear in mind the fact that the Greek was written expressly for acting. Mr. Blackie is less cautious, allowing himself not uncommonly to introduce whole sentences, in order to put the supposed force of the passage in the clearest
light. In this there is the further disadvantage, that the force · of the passage may possibly be misapprehended, in which case
one perfectiothere arey Mr. Hatert
the addition becomes something worse than useless. It may be right for the Herald in the Agamemnon to open his self-congratulatory speech (ců ydp trét paktai K.T.1.), Die now, an thou
wilt, for joy !' or for Clytemnæstra, announcing her husband's murder, to begin with a more marked reference to her previous speeches than appears on the face of the Greek (Troarôv tápolde kaipiws eipnuévwv), 'I spoke to you before;' but to make the Chorus in their altercation with Ægisthus, instead of bursting out with the question, τί δή τον άνδρα τόνδ' από ψυχής κακής Ουκ αυτός ņvápises, first entreat to be heard, —Hear me yet once !'appears to us a singularly unfortunate use of a questionable privilege. Akin to this is a fancy, entertained by some translators (we remember particularly Mr. Hayward in the preface to his Faust), that where there are two possible meanings to a passage it is the perfection of success to shadow out both. Mr. Blackie in one instance seems inclined to extend this rule even to the case of two possible readings—an application which, though perfectly legitimate, ought, we should think, to prove at once the incongruity of the practice contended for. Where the same word was clearly intended by the poet to have more than one meaning (as in the instance quoted above from the Agamemnon), it is of course right that the translator, if possible, should compass both. Again, where two meanings are possible, though only one can be true, there can be no harm if the translator's ingenuity should come to the help of his judgment, and relieve him from the responsibility of making a choice by presenting him with a word, or set of words, which may equally stand for either. But, failing this, it is not only not laudable, but most unjustifiable, to give two renderings, where one, if true, does not at once exclude the other, but remains amicably side by side with it. The laws of translation do not allow what in sporting phrase is called hedging ; the venture made must be a bonâ fide one, or at least one which does not buy off failure by sacrificing the possibility of complete success. We are detaining ourselves, however, from our last quotation, which shall be a specimen of Mr. Blackie's power in managing the dialogue. It will be seen that in departing from strict conformity to the Greek he has nevertheless preserved in no inconsiderable degree the tone and temper of his original. The passage is that fine one where Orestes is about to murder his mother :
• Clytemnestra. I nursed thy childhood, and in peace would die.
A complete English Translation.
Clytemnestra. My curse beware, the mother's curse that bore thee.
Judge not the man that goes abroad and labours. Clytemnestra. Hard was my lot, my child ; alone, uncherished. Orestes. Alone by the fire, while for thy gentle ease
Thy husband toiled. Clytemnestra.
Thou wilt not kill me, son ? Orestes. I kill thee not. Thyself dost kill thyself. Clytemnestra. Beware thy mother's anger-whetted hounds — Orestes. My father's hounds have hunted me to thee. Clytemnestra. The stone that sepulchres the dead art thou,
And I the tear on't. Orestes.
Cease! I voyaged here With a fair breeze: my father's murder brought me. Clytemnestra. Ah me! I nursed a serpent on my breast. Orestes. Thou hadst a prophet in thy dream last night;
And since thou kill'dst the man thou should'st have
The man, that now should spare thee, can but kill.' In the foregoing remarks our object has been to introduce Mr. Blackie's volumes to our readers, by giving adequate specimens of the merits which will be found in them on an independent perusal. The faults of the work we have sought to indicate in a manner which shall be intelligible to the author himself, and to those who, having examined his labours carefully, are not likely to derive a false impression from the strictures of a reviewer. To mention thus generally the defects which occurred to us was due not only to the public but to Mr. Blackie, who, having allowed them to remain, must be presumed to be unconscious of them; and, should he coincide with our judgment, in whole or in part, will of course be glad to remove them in a future edition. It must not be forgotten, however, that the work was one which in its very conception involved an unusual liability to error, not merely from the causes specified before, themselves amply sufficient to extenuate considerable lapses in execution, but from the extent of its scope as a complete English translation of Æschylus-a thing which but one or two writers have had the courage to undertake. A man who girds himself to so arduous a task is no more to be compared with a translator of a single play, than the latter is to be measured against the holiday performer, who in a happy moment hits off a solitary