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his bold and manly sense to be admired? What mind is so fastidious as to contemn just observations, and sound and wise reflections, because they are not expressed in the most elegant manner? The ancients, who must have seen the defects of Persius better than we can do, nevertheless admired him. All the philosophers and poets of his time seem to have esteemed him; and the best critic, and the wittiest epigrammatist of antiquity, were among the number of those who celebrated him. And then comes the elder Scaliger, with all his offensive pedantry, to inform us that Persius was silly and dull. But Quintilian would not have praised a silly writer, nor would Martial have admired a dull
As the translator of Persius, I have sometimes thought it necessary to polish his language. Even Dryden found the expressions of this Author too much forced to be literally translated; and he observes, with more truth than delicacy, that his verses are scabrous and hobbling.
What Dryden judged too rude for imitation, the critics of the present day will probably think I have been prudent in not copying. I have generally, therefore, followed the outlines; but I have seldom ventured to employ the colouring of Persius. Where the coarse metaphor, or the extravagant hyperbole debases, or obscures the sense in the original, I have changed, or even omitted it; where the idiom of the English language required it, I have thought myself justified, in abandoning the literal sense of my Author; and lastly, where the bold hand of the Roman satirist has torn the veil, which ought perhaps for ever to have concealed from mankind the monstrous and unnatural crimes of Nero, I have turned the attention of my readers to reflections less disagreeable, and to objects less disgusting.
Some, I know, there are who think, that in translation not a thought of the author should be lost, and not one added to him. Such readers I shall not often please. But I must observe, that
of all kinds of poetry satire is the most difficult to translate with fidelity, and yet with elegance. The epic, the tragic, or the lyric poet, speaks to the heart, or to the imagination; and his ideas may be expressed in almost every tongue. What language but can convey the sublime, paint the beautiful, or express the pathetic!
Not only works of taste and imagination, but even philosophic and didactic poems are more easily translated than satiric compositions. We can always follow, though we may not always allow the reasoning of Lucretius; and it would perhaps be an easier task to translate well the Art of Poetry of Horace, than to preserve the grace, the spirit, and the elegance of the original, in rendering many of his satires.
Dryden observes, in apology for the style of Persius, that when he wrote, the Latin language was more corrupted than in the time of Juvenal, and consequently of Horace. But ought not Dryden to have known that Persius wrote before
Juvenal? Besides, it cannot be supposed that the Latin language had lost very much of its purity in the time of either of these poets. Persius was born about eighteen years after the death of Augustus Cæsar; and Juvenal began to flourish about eighty years after the same period. But the silver age of Roman eloquence was remarkable, rather for the decline of taste, than for the corruption of language. The fault seems to have been fastidious delicacy; for refinement, when it becomes excessive, is not less hurtful to good writing, than the very coarseness and rudeness which it would avoid. Quintilian, indeed, complains, that barbarisms were gaining ground; and in some degree authorizes Dryden's observation, by remarking that Persius had employed one word without much attention to the purity of its Latinity. But it is well known, that new expressions had been frequently employed by the best Latin authors. Cicero has introduced words from the Greek, in his philosophical works, which are models of eloquence. Horace, the purest of the Roman poets, contends for the
admission of new words. Virgil employs several words in a sense peculiar to himself, as is remarked by Aurelius Victor. The Latinity of Livy has not escaped without censure; and though his style is better, his language is not purer than that of Tacitus. This last admirable writer offends only by the affected conciseness of his manner, which does not possess the simplicity required in history. Even Seneca himself, amidst the glare of his false eloquence, is guilty of incorrectness in taste, rather than of impurity in language. True indeed it is, that when taste is corrupted, language generally declines; but it is not the want of refinement, which can be imputed as a fault to most of the authors, who wrote immediately subsequent to the Augustan age.
A learned critic contends, that Persius brought satiric poetry to perfection, inasmuch as he was the first who treated only of one subject in each of his satires. Unity of subject, adds he, is as essential to satire, as unity of fable to tragedy.