The Iliad of Homer (Cowper)/Advertisement
ADVERTISEMENT TO SOUTHEY'S EDITION
It is incumbent upon the present Editor to state the reasons which have induced him, between two editions of Cowper's Homer, differing so materially from each other that they might almost be deemed different versions, to prefer the first.
Whoever has perused the Translator's letters, must have perceived that he had considered with no ordinary care the scheme of his versification, and that when he resolved upon altering it in a second edition, it was in deference to the opinion of others.
It seems to the Editor that Cowper's own judgment is entitled to more respect, than that of any, or all his critics; and that the version which he composed when his faculties were most active and his spirits least subject to depression,—indeed in the happiest part of his life,—ought not to be superseded by a revisal, or rather reconstruction, which was undertaken three years before his death,—not like the first translation as "a pleasant work, an innocent luxury," the cheerful and delightful occupation of hope and ardor and ambition,—but as a "hopeless employment," a task to which he gave "all his miserable days, and often many hours of the night," seeking to beguile the sense of utter wretchedness, by altering as if for the sake of alteration.
The Editor has been confirmed in this opinion by the concurrence of every person with whom he has communicated on the subject. Among others he takes the liberty of mentioning Mr. Cary, whose authority upon such a question is of especial weight, the Translator of Dante being the only one of our countrymen who has ever executed a translation of equal magnitude and not less difficulty, with the same perfect fidelity and admirable skill.
In support of this determination, the case of Tasso may be cited as curiously in point. The great Italian poet altered his Jerusalem like Cowper, against his own judgment, in submission to his critics: he made the alteration in the latter years of his life, and in a diseased state of mind; and he proceeded upon the same prescribed rule of smoothing down his versification, and removing all the elisions. The consequence has been that the reconstructed poem is utterly neglected, and has rarely, if ever, been reprinted, except in the two great editions of his collected works; while the original poem has been and continues to be in such demand, that the most diligent bibliographer might vainly attempt to enumerate all the editions through which it has passed.