Open main menu

Page:Notes and Queries - Series 9 - Volume 11.djvu/490

This page needs to be proofread.


NOTES AND QUERIES. [9 th s. XL JUNE 20, iocs.

" Soyons logiques et nous serons justes." To me it seems that in every sample of such work the question is, or ought to be : Is it, or is it not, a good translation 1 and if good, then it is fairly entitled to respect and admiration.

In his imaginary conversation with the Abbe Delille Landor says, and says with truth :

" To translate Milton well is more laudable than originality in trifling matters, just as to transport an obelisk from Egypt, and to erect it in one of our squares, must be considered a greater achievement than to build a new chandler's shop " ;

and surely it is better to reproduce in another tongue the masterpiece of a master mind provided you do it well than to brew small beer of one's own. And yet, as there is seldom smoke without fire, so it must be confessed that there is some justification for this abuse of translators and translations. The fact is that so much rubbish has been shot upon the market in the form of translation that the world has grown cross over it all, and is now inclined to turn again and rend all trans- lators, and to assert that these unfortunate artists bear to writers about the same relation as the makers of surgical instruments do to surgeons mere mechanical toilers in a field of ancillary labour. But all this is most unjust. A fine translation of a fine work must always be itself a fine work, and a poem cannot be worthily translated except by one who is, at least to a certain extent, himself a poet.

It is evident that the essential conditions of a good metrical translation are these : first, and assuredly foremost, that it shall faithfully express the sense of the original ; and, secondly, that it shall do this in correct metre and in elegant language. An ideally perfect translation would be one which should everywhere, and in the highest conceivable degree, fulfil both these conditions ; but it is practically certain that the perfect combina- tion of these two conditions in every part of such a work would be impossible. A trans- lation which should be throughout absolutely literal could not conceivably be throughout absolutely elegant. Therefore it results that in all attempts at metrical translation passages will present themselves in which it will be absolutely necessary to resort to some degree of compromise between literal fidelity and elegant freedom ; but he is the most successful translator who most sparingly resorts to this compromise, and who, when compelled to resort to it, most delicately effects and controls it, and with the smallest possible sacrifice of the verbal form of the original.

Furthermore, it must be borne in mind that fidelity to the original can be tested and appreciated only by those who understand the language of the original, whereas the elegance or otherwise of the English can be tested and appreciated by all who know English, and it may be said that, for one reader who can and will judge of the fidelity of a translation, there will be a hundred who, while incapable of judging of that, will be capable of judging of the elegance or other- wise of its language. From this consideration it follows that the translator who desires to please the greatest number of readers, while he will conserve as far as possible fidelity to his original, will not too largely sacrifice elegance of diction to verbal fidelity, and where the two are incompatible he will be constrained to make some considerable sacrifice of the latter.

It must have been on some such principle as this that Coleridge wrote his translation of the ' Piccolomini ' in ' Wallenstein ' ; but, to my thinking, no legitimate observance of that principle can be held to justify the blunders in translation with which that performance bristles blunders of a palpable and evident nature, which clearly prove that in the passages where they occur he entirely mis- apprehended the meaning of the German which he was professing to translate. Some day, when the glamour which surrounds a

freat name shall have in some degree abated, doubt not that these blunders will be exposed, and that some considerable deduc- tion will, in consequence, be made from the extravagant praises usually bestowed on that work. Many have marvelled at the extraordinary estimation which this piece has enjoyed, but it should be remembered that, in addition to its many unquestionable beauties, it had in its favour all the prestige of a celebrated name, and also that it was produced at a time when German was so little known in this country that Abraham Hay ward was lionized in London society, and dubbed "Faust Hay ward," merely on the strength of having written a prose version of about one-half of Goethe's masterpiece.



(See ante, p. 421.)

ALTHOUGH existing in manuscript years before, there was issued in 1659

"The Shepheard's Paradise. A Comedy. Pri- vately Acted before the Late King Charls by the Queen's Majesty, and Ladies of Honour. Written by W. Mountague Esq;. London, Printed for John